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When 

PROPHECY FAILS 

~ — BY Leon Festinger 

Henry W. Riecken and Stanley Schachter 



UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA PRESS • MINNEAPOLIS 



Foreword 



The study reported in this volume grew out of some theoretical 
work, one phase of which bore specifically on the behavior of 
individuals in social movements that made specific (and unful- 
filled) prophecies. We had been forced to depend chiefly on his- 
torical records to judge the adequacy of our theoretical ideas 
until we by chance discovered the social movement that we re- 
port in this book. At the time we learned of it, the movement was 
in mid-career but the prophecy about which it was centered had 
not yet been disconfirmed. We were understandably eager to 
undertake a study that could test our theoretical ideas under natu- 
ral conditions. 

That we were able to do this study was in great measure due 

to the support obtained through the Laboratory for Research in 
Social Relations of the University of Minnesota. This study is 
a project of the Laboratory and was carried out while we were 
all members of its staff. We should also like to acknowledge the 
help we received through a grant-in-aid from the Ford Founda- 
tion to one of the authors, a grant that made preliminary explora- 
tion of the field situation possible. 

A number of individuals also contributed importantly to the 
success of the field study. Our chief debt of personal gratitude is 
to the participant observers who bore the brunt of the day-to- 
day work: Doris Bosted, Elizabeth Williams Nail, Frank Nail, 
Marsh Ray, and Donald Salzman. We regret that we cannot here 
give them credit for their individual deeds of ingenuity, endur- 
ance, and self-sacrifice, since our attempt to disguise the persons, 
places, and times in our narrative makes it desirable to conceal 
who did what and where. 



V 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Dr. John G. Darley, director of the Laboratory for Research 
in Social Relations, deserves our gratitude for his logistic support. 
While we were entangled in the innumerable problems of data 
collection, dashing off at frequent intervals to attend meetings 
of the movement or to supervise the work of the observers, he 
kept a cool head and brought order out of the administrative 
chaos we dumped on his desk. 

Finally, we want to acknowledge the insightful criticisms of 
the manuscript we received from Gardner Lindzey, Seymour M. 
Lipset, and Pauline S. Sears. Their many helpful suggestions are 
reflected in the final draft. 

All the persons and places we mention have been given ficti- 
tious names and any resemblance between these names and those 
of actual people anywhere is unintentional. We have not changed 
the essential nature of any of the events we report,- but by the 
disguises employed we have tried to protect the actual people in- 
volved in the movement from the curiosity of an unsympathetic 
reader. 

The publication of a collaborative work sometimes raises ques- 
tions among readers about what share of the credit (or blame) 
should be given to each author. We all contributed equally to the 
study and have tried to avoid the problem of seniority of author- 
ship by arraying our names on the title page alphabetically. 

LEON FESTINGER 
HENRY W. RIECKEN 
STANLEY SCHACHTER 

December 21, /p/j- 



vi 



Table of Contents 



I Unfulfilled Prophecies and Disappointed 
Messiahs 3 

II Teachings and Prophecies from Outer Space 33 

III Spreading the Word on Earth 58 

IV The Long Wait for Orders 87 
V Four Days of Very Imminent Salvation 139 

VI An Unfulfilled Prophecy and an Elated Prophet 174 

VII Reactions to Disconfirmation 193 

VIII Alone and Dry 216 
Epilogue 230 



vii 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 



CHAPTER I Unfulfilled Prophecies 

and Disappointed Messiahs 



A. MAN with a conviction is a hard man to cliange. Tell him you 
disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he 
questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your 
point. 

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a 
strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some 
investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of in- 
genious defenses with which people protect their convictions, 
managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating 
attacks. 

But man's resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a 
belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole 
heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, 
that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose 
that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable 
evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The indi- 
vidual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more 
convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he 
may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting 
other people to his view. 

How and why does such a response to contradictory evidence 
come about? This is the question on which this book focuses. We 
hope that, by the end of the volume, we will have provided an 
adequate answer to the question, an answer documented by data. 

Let us begin by stating the conditions imder which we would 
expect to observe increased fervor following the disconfirmation 
of a belief. There are five such conditions. 



3 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

1. A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have 
some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how 
he behaves. 

2. The person holding the beUef must have committed himself 
to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some 
important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more 
important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to 
undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief. 

3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently con- 
cerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally re- 
fute the belief. 

4. Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and 
must be recognized by the individual holding the belief. 

The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that 
will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth 
conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that 
would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. 
It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply 
convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal 
disconfirmation. We must, therefore, state a fifth condition speci- 
fying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded 
and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor. 

5. The individual believer must have social support It is un- 
likely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of dis- 
confirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer 
is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support 
one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the 
believers to attempt to proselyte or to persuade nonmembers that 
the belief is correct. 

These five conditions specify the circumstances under which 
increased proselyting would be expected to follow disconfirma- 
tion. Given this set of hypotheses, our immediate concern is to 
locate data that will allow a test of the prediction of increased 
proselyting. Fortunately, there have been throughout history 
recurring instances of social movements which do satisfy the con- 
ditions adequately. These are the millennial or messianic move- 

4 



UNFin^FILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

ments, a contemporary instance of which we shall be examining 
in detail in the main part of this volume. Let us see just how such 
movements do satisfy the five conditions we have specified. 

Typically, millennial or messianic movements are organized 
around the prediction of some future events. Our conditions are 
satisfied, however, only by those movements that specify a date 
or an interval of time within which the predicted events will 
occur as well as detailing exactly what is to happen. Sometimes 
the predicted event is the second coming of Christ and the be- 
ginning of Christ's reign on earth; sometimes it is the destruction 
of the world through a cataclysm (usually with some select group 
slated for rescue from the disaster) ; or sometimes the prediction 
is concerned with particular occurrences that the Messiah or a 
miracle worker will bring about. Whatever the event predicted, 
the fact that its nature and the time of its happening are specified 
satisfies the third point on our list of conditions. 

The second condition specifies strong behavioral commitment 
to the belief. This usually follows almost as a consequence of the 
situation. If one really beheves a prediction (the first condition), 
for example, that on a given date the world will be destroyed by 
fire, with sinners being destroyed and the good being saved, one 
does things about it and makes certain preparations as a matter of 
course. These actions may range all the way from simple public 
declarations to the neglect of worldly things and the disposal of 
earthly possessions. Through such actions and through the mock- 
ing and scoffing of nonbelievers there is usually established a 
heavy commitment on the part of believers. What they do by 
way of preparation is difficult to undo, and the jeering of non- 
behevers simply makes it far more difficult for the adherents to 
withdraw from the movement and admit that they were wrong. 

Our fourth specification has invariably been provided. The pre- 
dicted events have not occurred. There is usually no mistaking 
the fact that they did not occur and the believers know that. In 
other words, the unequivocal disconfirmation does materialize and 
makes its impact on the believers. 

Finally, our fifth condition is ordinarily satisfied — such move- 

5 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

ments do attract adherents and disciples, sometimes only a hand- 
ful, occasionally hundreds of thousands. The reasons why people 

join such movements are outside the scope of our present discus- 
sion, but the fact remains that there are usually one or more 
groups of believers who can support one another. 

History has recorded many such movements. Some are scarcely 
more than mentioned, while others are extensively described, al- 
though sometimes the aspects of a movement that concern us 
most may be sketchily recounted. A number of historical ac- 
counts, however, are complete enough to provide an introductory 
and exploratory answer to our central question. From these we 
have chosen several relatively clear examples of the phenomena 
under scrutiny in an endeavor simply to show what has often 
happened in movements that made a prediction about the future 
and then saw it disconfirmed. We shall discuss these historical 
examples before presenting the data from our case study of a 
modem movement. 

Ever since the crucifixion of Jesus, many Christians have hoped 
for the second coming of Christ, and movements predicting spe- 
cific dates for this event have not been rare. But most of the very 
early ones were not recorded in such a fashion that we can be 
sure of the reactions of believers to the disconfirmations they may 
have experienced. Occasionally historians make passing reference 
to such reactions as does Hughes in his description of the Mon- 
tanists: 

Montanus, who appeared in the second half of the second cen- 
tury, does not appear as an innovator in matters of belief. His 
one personal contribution to the life of the time was the fixed 
conviction that the second coming of Our Lord was at hand. The 
event was to take place at Pepuza — near the modem Angora — 
and thither all true followers of Our Lord should make their way. 
His authority for the statement was an alleged private inspiration, 
and the new prophet's personality and eloquence won him a host 
of disciples, who flocked in such numbers to the appointed spot 
that a new town sprang up to house them. Nor did the delay of 
the second advent put an end to the movement. On the contrary, 
it gave it new life and form as a kind of Christianity of the elite, 

6 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

whom no other authority guided in their new life but the Holy 
Spirit working directly upon them. . . . [Italics ours.] ^ 

In this brief statement are all the essential elements of the typi- 
cal messianic movement. There are convinced followers; they 
commit themselves by uprooting their lives and going to a new 
place where they build a new town; the Second Advent does not 
occur. And, we note, far from halting the movement, this dis- 
confirmation gives it new life. 

There is somewhat better documentation of millennial move- 
ments in more recent history. For example, the Anabaptists of the 
early sixteenth century believed that the millennium would occur 
in 1533. As Heath puts it: 

But these high thoughts were obscured by Hoffmann's predic- 
tion that the end of all things was at hand. Strassburg, according 
to him, had been chosen as the New Jerusalem; there the magis- 
trates would set up the kingdom of righteousness, while the hun- 
dred and forty and four thousand would maintain the power of 
the Qty, and the true Gospel and the true Baptism would spread 
over the earth. No man would be able to withstand the power, 
signs and wonders of the saints; and with them would appear, 
like two mighty torches, Enoch and Elias, who would consume 
the earth with the fire proceeding from their mouths. The year 
1533 was the time in which, Hoffmann declared, the great ful- 
fillment would begin.^ 

This adventist prediction was apparently proclaimed with vigor 
and was accepted by many persons who then acted accordingly, 
that is, they began to prepare for the Second Advent and the end 
of the temporal world. Heath says, for example: 

. . . The followers of Rothmann [a disciple of Hoffmaim], were 
at this time, as was their leader, distinguished for earnestness and 
self-sacrificing devotion. They sought to exemplify equality and 
brotherhood in their lives. Well-to-do Brothers and Sisters gave 
all their goods to the poor, destroyed their rent-rolls, forgave 
their debtors, renounced worldly pleasiures, studying to live an 
unworldly life.' 

Such was the situation in 1533, when the end of the world was 
due. Many people had accepted this belief and some were even 

7 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

disposing of their worldly goods. What happened as the end of 
1533 approached and, indeed, when 1534 arrived, without the 
Second Coming having materialized? 

From all accounts it would seem that instead of dampening the 
ardor of the Anabaptists, the disconfirmation of the predicted 
Second Coming increased their enthusiasm and activity. They 
poured greater energy than ever before into obtaining new con- 
verts, and sent out missionaries, something they never had done 
before. The following excerpts from Heath's study illustrate this 
increase of enthusiasm and activity following the disconfirmation: 

. . . The year 1533 was almost at an end, the half-year during 
which it had been prophesied Hoffmann should be imprisoned 
had nearly elapsed, the two years' cessation from baptism had 
nearly run out when a new prophet [Matthysz] arose. 

The Dutch Baptists felt that a leader had risen up amongst 
them, and they yielded themselves to his guidance. Matthysz 
began by sending out apostles . . . These apostles went forth 
announcing, among other things, that the promised time had 
come, that no more Christian blood would be poured out, but 
that in a short time God would overthrow the tyrants and blood- 
shedders with all the rest of the wicked. They travelled through 
many states and visited many cities, going to the gatherings of 
the faithful, and offering them the kiss of peace. They baptized, 
and ordained bishops and deacons, committing to the former the 
duty of ordaining others. 

The new tide of enthusiasm rose higher than ever. Jakob van 
Kampen, who, assisted by Houtzager, worked among the poorer 
homes in Amsterdam, baptized in February, 1534, in one day, a 
hundred persons. About two months later it was estimated that 
two-thirds of the population at Monniaendam were adherents of 
Jan Matthysz, and it is said to have been the same in the neigh- 
bourhood of most of the great cities of Holland.* 

Another, and rather fascinating, illustration of the reaction to 
disconfirming evidence is provided by the messianic movement 
of which Sabbatai Zevi was the central figure.^ Sabbatai Zevi was 
born and raised in the city of Smyrna. By 1646 he had acquired 
considerable prestige through living a highly ascetic life and de- 
voting his whole energy to the study of the cabala. Indeed, though 
8 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 
he was only twenty years old, he had already gathered around 
him a small group of disciples. To these disciples he taught and 
interpreted the highly mystical writings of the cabala. 

Prevalent among Jews at that time was the belief that the Mes- 
siah would come in the year 1648. His coming was to be accom- 
panied by all manner of miracles and the era of redemption would 
dawn. Sometime in 1648 Sabbatai Zevi proclaimed himself as 
the promised Messiah to his small group of disciples. Needless to 
say, the year 1648 passed and the era of redemption did not dawn 
and the expected miracles were not forthcoming. 

There is but scant information about immediately subsequent 
events but apparently this disconfirmation of his messiahship did 
not daunt Sabbatai or his disciples. Indeed, it seems that after 
1648 he made his claim known to the community at large. Graetz 
writes: "When Zevi's pretensions became known some years later, 
the college of rabbis, at their head his teacher Joseph Eskapha, 
laid him and his followers under a ban . . . Finally, he and his 
disciples were banished from Smyrna [about 1651]."' The sig- 
nificant point for our interest is that it was after the year 1648 
had passed and nothing had happened that Zevi proclaimed his 
messiahship to people outside his small circle of disciples. 

His banishment, however, certainly does not end the story. 
About this time some segments of the Christian world were ex- 
pecting the year 1666 to usher in the millennium, and Sabbatai 
Zevi appears to have accepted this date. From 1651 until the au- 
tumn of 1 665 he moved about among the cities of the Near East 
which had large Jewish communities, making known his claims 
to be the Messiah and gradually acquiring more and more fol- 
lowers even though the rabbinate continued to oppose him. By 
1665 '^is following was very large and a number of disciples had 
helped him spread his name and pretensions throughout the Jewish 
world. The atmosphere in Smyrna had so changed by the autumn 
of 1665 that when he returned to his native city in that year he 
was received with great joy. In September or October of 1665 he 
proclaimed himself the Messiah in a public ceremony in Smyrna: 

9 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

The madness of the Jews of Smyrna knew no bounds. Every 
sign of honor and enthusiastic love was shown him. . . . All pre- 
pared for a speedy exodus, the return to the Holy Land. Work- 
men neglected their business, and thought only of the approach- 
ing Kingdom of the Messiah. . . . 

These events in the Jew's quarter at Smyrna made a great sen- 
sation in ever-widening circles. The neighboring communities in 
Asia Minor, many members of which had betaken themselves to 
Smyrna, and witnessed the scenes enacted in the town, brought 
home exaggerated accounts of the Messiah's power of attraction 
and of working miracles, were swept into the same vortex. Sab- 
batai's private secretary, Samuel Primo, took care that reports of 
the fame and doings or the Messiah should reach Jews abroad.' 

The movement gradually spread to almost the whole of Jewry, 
and Sabbatai was accepted and heralded everywhere as the Mes- 
siah. Furthermore, since this was no idle belief, people took steps 
to prepare for the promised events. They neglected their work 
and their businesses, and many prepared for the return to Jerusalem. 

Since one of the predicted events was that the Sultan would be 
deposed (a necessary preliminary to the return of the Jews to the 
Holy Land), at the very beginning of the year 1666, Sabbatai 
together with a number of followers set out for Constantinople to 
accomplish this task. The party landed on the coast of the Dar- 
danelles where Sabbatai was immediately arrested by Turkish 
officials and was brought in fetters to a small town in the neigh- 
borhood of Constantinople. Graetz writes: 

Informed by a messenger of his arrival ... his followers [from 
Constantinople] hastened from the capital to see him, but found 
him in a pitiable plight and in chains. The money which they 
brought with them procured him some alleviation, and on the 
following Sunday [February 1666] he was brought by sea to 
Constantinople — but in how different a manner to what he and 
his believers had anticipated! * 

Clearly, we may regard his arrest as a serious disappointment to 
the followers of Sabbatai and a disconfirmation of his predictions. 
Indeed, there were evidences of shock and disappointment. But 
then there began to emerge the familiar pattern: recovery of con- 
10 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 
viction, followed by new heights of enthusiasm and proselyting. 
Graetz describes the ensuing events very well: 

For some days they kept quietly at home, because the street 
boys mocked them by shouting, "Is he coming? Is he coming?" 
But soon they began again to assert that he was the true Messiah, 
and that the sufferings which he had encountered were necessary, 
a condition to his glorification. The prophets continued to pro- 
claim the speedy redemption of Sabbatai and of all Israel. . . . 
Thousands crowded daily to Sabbatai's place of confinement mere- 
ly to catch a glimpse of'^ him. . . . The expectations of the Jews 
were raised to a still higher pitch, and the most exaggerated hopes 
fostered to a greater degree." 

The very fact that Sabbatai was still alive was used by the Jews 
to argue that he was really the Messiah. When he was moved to 
another jail and his incarceration became milder (largely through 
bribery) the argument was complete. A constant procession of 
adoring followers visited the prison where Sabbatai held court, 
and a steady stream of propaganda and tales of miracles poured 
out all over the Near East and Europe. Graetz states: 

What more was needed to confirm the predictions of prophets 
of ancient and modem times? The Jews accordingly prepared 
seriously to return to their original home. In Hungary they began 
to unroof their houses. In large commercial cities, where Jews 
took the lead in wholesale business, such as Amsterdam, Leghorn 
and Hamburg, stagnation of trade ensued.^" 

The memoirs of a contemporary European Jewess vividly con- 
firm Graetz' assertions: 

Our joy, when the letters arrived [from Smyrna] is not to be 
told. Most of them were addressed to the Sephardim who, as fast 
as they came, took them to their synagogue and read them aloud; 
young and old, the Germans too hastened to the Sephardic sjma- 
gogue. 

Many sold their houses and lands and all their possessions, for 
any day they hoped to be redeemed. My good father-in-law left 
his home in Hameln, abandoned his house and lands and all his 
goodly furniture and moved to Hildesheim. He sent on to us in 
Hamburg two enormous casks packed with linens and with peas, 
beans, dried meats, shredded prunes and like stuff, every manner 

II 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

of food that would keep. For the old man expected to sail any 
moment from Hamburg to the Holy Land.^^ 

Finally, in an effort to cope with the problem, without making 
a martyr of Sabbatai, the Sultan attempted to convert him to 
Islam. Astonishingly enough, the plan succeeded and Sabbatai 
donned the turban. Many of the Jews of the Near East still kept 
faith in him. Explanations were invented for his conversion and 
many continued their proselyting, usually in places where the 
movement had not previously been strong. A considerable num- 
ber of Jews even followed his lead and became Moslems. His 
conversion proved to be too much for most of his followers in 
Europe, however, and the movement there soon collapsed. 

The Sabbataian movement strikingly illustrates the phenome- 
non we are concerned with: when people are committed to a 
belief and a course of action, clear disconfirming evidence may 
simply result in deepened conviction and increased proselyting. 
But there does seem to be a point at which the disconfirming evi- 
dence has mounted sufficiently to cause the belief to be rejected. 

In the preceding examples many of the facts are not known, 
others are in dispute, and much is vague. There is, however, a 
more recent movement about which considerable detail is known 
— the Milierites, who flourished in mid-nineteenth-century Ameri- 
ca. Many of the original documents of the MUlerite movement 
have been preserved and there are two fairly lengthy summary 
accounts available. One, by C. E. Sears,^^ tends to ridicule the 
Milierites while the other, by F. D. Nichol,^' is a careful and 
vigorous defense of them. 

William Miller was a New England farmer with a belief in the 
literal fulfillment of biblical prophecy. In 1818, after a two-year 
study of the Bible, Miller reached the conclusion that the end of 
the world would occur in 1843. Nichol's account reads: 

Specifically, he put his first and greatest emphasis on the pro- 
phetic declaration, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; 
then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Daniel 8 : 14. Believing that 
the "cleansing" of the sanctuary involved the purging of this 
earth by fire, the "days" in symbolic prophecy stand for years. 



12 



XJNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

and that this time prophecy began about 457 B.C., he reached this 

final conclusion: "I was thus brought, in 18 18, at the close of my 
two years' study of the Scriptures, to the solemn conclusion, that 
in about twenty-five years from that time all the affairs of our 
present state would be wound up." (William Miller, Apology and 
Defense, p. 5)." 

For another five years he continued to study the Bible and to 
check his calculations before he acquired the confidence to talk 
much about it to others. Even then he talked only to his neigh- 
bors and to a few ministers, none of whom seemed to manifest 
much interest. He continued talking about his views, however. 
By 1 83 1 he had evoked enough interest to receive invitations to 
address various groups. For eight years Miller continued to de- 
vote a great deal of his time to giving lectures in which he 
explained the basis for his prediction of the millennium in 1843. 
He gradually persuaded more and more people, including a num- 
ber of ministers, of the correctness of his belief. In 1839 he met 
and convinced Joshua V. Himes, who helped change the move- 
ment from a one-man affair into an organized activity. A news- 
paper was started, and in 1840, only three years before the Sec- 
ond Coming was due, a general conference of interested ministers 
was called. Proselyting activity increased and Miller's views began 
to spread as the adventist prediction became the focus of a mass 
movement. 

Many of the leading figures in the Millerite movement had still 
not fully accepted the specific date of 1843 as the time of the 
Second Coming. In the spring of 1842, a general conference was 
held in Boston. Nichol states: 

In this conference the significance of the time element in the 
preaching of the advent came definitely to the front as indicated 
in this resolution that was passed: 

"Resolved, that in the opinion of this conference, there are most 
serious and important reasons for believing that God has revealed 
the time of the end of the world, and that that time is 1843." 
(Signs of the Times, June i, 1842, p. 69). 

The very fact that an increasing emphasis was being placed on 
the time element meant that all who accepted this phase of the 

13 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

teaching felt an increasing sense of urgency in discharging their 
responsibility to warn the world. They believed that the time had 
come to proclaim with vigor what they described as "the mid- 
night cry." " 

In other words, as the year 1843 approached, belief in the cor- 
rectness of the predicted date grew stronger. At the same time 
activity in spreading the word was on the increase. The general 
conference had decided to hold a series of camp meetings during 
the summer of 1842, and these were almost all highly successful. 
In four months, ending the middle of November, the Millerites 
held thirty camp meetings at which the attendance was in the 
thousands. The number of adherents was growing steadily. 

In addition to the newspaper Signs of the Times, which had 
been started in Boston in 1840, the Millerite leaders now started 
another, The Midnight Cry, in New York. Many other newspa- 
pers were published in various cities for shorter periods of time, 
usually in connection with a special series of lectures being given 
locally: 

For example, the Philadelphia Alarm was started in 1843, as an 
adjunct to a series of lectures. Thirteen numbers were issued. 
Thus a local color could be given to the literature in any city 
while an initial endeavor was being made there. Afterward the 

more permanently established publications could be used for pro- 
motion and educating the believers in the movement.^* 

While the movement was growing the opposition was also in- 
creasing. By the beginning of 1843 many ministers were preach- 
ing against the Millerites and newspapers were ridiculing them. 
Rumors were current and printed widely in the newspapers of 
the day that Miller's followers were fanatics and that his doctrines 
drove people insane. A single example should suffice to show the 
kind of attack directed against the movement: 

The Millerites have very properly been shut out of the build- 
ings in which they have for some time been holding their orgies 
in Philadelphia, and we are happy to learn that the grand jury 
of the Boston municipal court has represented the great temple 
itself as a dangerous structure. After some half-dozen more deaths 
occur and a few more men and women are sent to madhouses by 

14 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

this miserable fanaticism perhaps some grand jury may think it 
worth-while to indict the vagabonds who are the cause of so 
much mischief.^' 

In spite of such opposition, the movement continued to attract 
believers — so many that it became difficult to find a hall large 
enough for general meetings. Early in 1843, therefore, the leaders 
decided to erect a tabernacle in Boston. It was dedicated before 
an audience of some 3500 people — a capacity crowd that in- 
cluded a number of clergymen of the city. The new building 
made it possible to speed the word to even larger audiences in the 
city, while the campaign of pamphlets and nevi^papers continued 
unabated. 

As one might expect, the beginning of 1843 coincided with an 
upsurge of interest in the specific date of the Advent. Until the 
beginning of the year, Miller had usually referred to the Second 
Coming as taking place "about the year 1843." On January i, 
1843, Miller published a synopsis of his beliefs, and therein stated 
his expectations about the date: 

I believe the time can be known by all who desire to under- 
stand and to be ready for His coming. And I am fully convinced 
that sometime between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st, 1844, 
according to the Jewish mode of computation of time, Christ will 
come, and bring all His Saints with Him; and that then He will 
reward every man as his work shall be.^* 

Nichol comments: 

Miller set no date or day within this period. The leaders who 
were associated with him likewise refused to name a specific date. 
In the first issue of January, 1843, the Signs of the Times de- 
clared, in refutation of a widely circulated charge that the Miller- 
ites had set on a certain day in April: 

"The fact is, that the believers of the second advent in 1843, 
have fixed NO TIME in the year for the event. And Brethren 
Miller, Himes, Litch, Hale, Fitch, Hawley, and other prominent 
lecturers, most decidedly protest against . . . fixing the day or 
hour of the event. This we have done over and over again, in our 
paper." {Signs of the Times, Jan. 4, 1843, p. 121. See also issue of 
Jan. 18, 1843, p. 141, in which George Storrs, another Millerite 

15 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

minister, protests against the fixing of any day; also issue of April 
5, 1843, pp. 33-35, 37.) 

It is true that individual preachers or limited groups here and 
there sought to find a Scriptural analogy or by a certain reading 
of the prophecy a warrant for predicting the advent on some par- 
ticular day during the year.^* 

The fact that Miller had specified an interval of time, namely, 
March 21, 1843, to March 21, 1844, rather than a single day, 
tended to be temporarily overlooked by many followers. Two 
predictions of specific days had some currency although it is im- 
possible to be sure how widely they were believed. Some Miller- 
ites expected the Advent to occur on April 23, 1843, although the 
leaders never endorsed this date. Those who had given credence 
to the April date reacted to its passing in the following way: 

At first there was evidence of surprise and disappointment 
among the Millerites, but it quickly gave way to renewed confi- 
dence. "After all," they reminded one another, "there is a whole 
year in which to look for the Coming; — we looked for it too 
soon, that was all." — and the singing and exhorting took on a 
new fervor,** 

Here once again we note the appearance of increased enthusi- 
asm and conviction after a disconfirmation. 

In spite of the official position of the leaders, that the end of 
the period in which the Second Coming was expected was March 
21, 1844, many Millerites placed their hopes on the end of 1843. 
The leaders took note of this specific expectation and, early in 
1844, issued statements concerning it. For example, the opening 
paragraph of a New Year's address by Miller goes as follows: 

"Brethren, The Roman [year] 1843 is past [the Jewish sacred 
year would end in the spring of 1844] and our hopes are not 
realized. Shall we give up the ship? No, no . , . We do not yet 
believe our reckoning has run out. It takes all of 457 and 1843 
to make 2300, and must of course run as far into '44 as it began 
in the year 457 before Christ," 

The situation generally at the beginning of 1844 is described 
by Sears: 
16 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 



. . . Then a fluttering of doubt and hesitation became apparent 
in certain communities, but soon those were dispelled when it 
was recalled that as far back as 1839 Prophet Miller had stated on 
some occasion, which had been forgotten in the general excite- 
ment, that he was not positive that the event would take place 
during the Christian year from 1843 to 1844, and that he would 
claim the whole Jewish year which would carry the prophecy 
over to the 21st of March, 1844. An announcement to this effect 
was sent broadcast, and by this time the delusion had taken such 
a firm hold upon the imaginations of his followers that any simple 
explanation, however crude, seemed sufficient to quiet all doubts 
and questionings. 

Having accepted this lengthening of the allotted time, the 
brethren who had assumed the responsibility of sounding the 
alarm entered into their work with renewed energy and outdid 
themselves in their efforts to terrify the army of unbelievers into 
a realization of the horrors that awaited them and to strengthen 
the faith of those already in he ranks." 

Again fervor increased; Millerite conferences in New York and 
Philadelphia were thronged, and, in Washington, there had to be 
a last-minute change to a larger hall. Popular interest greatly ex- 
ceeded even the leaders' expectations. 

But March 21, 1844, also came and went with no sign of the 
Second Coming. The reaction of the non-Millerites was strong 
and unequivocal: 

The world made merry over the old Prophet's predicament. 
The taunts and jeers of the "scoffers" were well-nigh unbearable. 
If any of Miller's followers walked abroad, they ran the gauntlet 
of merciless ridicule. 

"What!— not gone up yet? —We thought you'd gone up! 
Aren't you going up soon? — Wife didn't go up and leave you 
behind to bum, did she?" 

The rowdy element in the community would not leave them 
alone."* 

There was strong and severe disappointment among the believ- 
ers, but this was of brief duration and soon the energy and enthusi- 
asm were back to where they had been before and even greater: 

. . . The year of the end of the world had ended, but Millerism 
had not. . . . Though some who had been only lukewarm in the 

17 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 



movement fell away from it, many maintained both their faith 
and their fervor. They were ready to attribute the disappoint- 
ment to some minor error in calculating chronology.^* 

But in spite of the failure of the prophecy the fires of fanati- 
cism increased. The flames of such emotions cannot be quenched 
at will; like all great conflagrations they must burn themselves 
out. And so it was in 1844. Instead of decreasing, the failure 
seemed to excite even greater exhibitions of loyalty to the expec- 
tation of the impending Judgment Day.^° 

By the middle of July things were at a new fever pitch and the 
energy expended to convert more and more people was greater 
than ever. Miller and Himes traveled as far as Ohio to make con- 
verts, something that had never before been done. Himes described 
the general attitude of followers toward the Advent: "I have never 
witnessed a stronger, or more active faith. Indeed, the faith and 
confidence of the brethren in the prophetic word was never 
stronger. I find few, if any, who ever believed on Bible evidence, 
that are at all shaken in the faith; while others are embracing our 
views." Following a visit to Philadelphia Himes, still very much 
aware of the disconfirmation in March, showed his elation at the 
revival of behef: "The trying crisis is past, and the cause is on 
the rise in this city. The calls for lectures in the vicinity were 
never more pressing than now. The minister in charge of the 
Ebenezer station, Kensington, (Protestant Methodist) has just 
come out on the doctrine in full." 

As Nichol puts it: 

From Cleveland, Himes wrote early in August of his plan to 
go to England in October, "if time be prolonged," for the pur- 
pose of quickening the interest already present there. Literature 
had been sent out. Various ministers in other lands had taken up 
the cry, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh." But Himes thought 
that now he and others with him from America should go forth 
to strengthen the endeavors abroad. Said he: 

"If time be continued for a few months, we shall send the glad 
tidings out in a number of different languages, among Protestant 
and Catholic nations. . . . 

"A press shall be established at London, and lecturers will go 
out in every direction, and we trust the Word of the Lord shall 

18 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

have a free course and be glorified. What we shall accomplish we 
can not tell. But we wish to do our duty." (The Advent Herald, 
Aug. 21, 1844, p. 20) 

Thus even as Himes and Miller moved westward expanding the 
work, they envisioned a still greater work overseas.*' 

About this time more and more Millerites were accepting a new 
prediction first promulgated by one of their number, the Rever- 
end Samuel S. Snow, who believed that the date of the Second 
Coming would be October 22, 1844. Although it might not seem 
possible for the enthusiasm and fervor to exceed what had already 
been shown in the first few months of 1844, that is just what hap- 
pened. The two partial disconfirmations (April 23, 1843, and the 
end of the calendar year 1843) and one complete and unequivocal 
disconfirmation (March 21, 1844) served simply to strengthen 
conviction that the Coming was near at hand and to increase the 
time and energy that Miller's adherents spent trying to convince 
others: 

Perhaps not so much from the preaching and writing of Snow, 
as from a deep conviction that the end of all things could not be 
far away, some of the believers in Northern New Hampshire, 
even before summer began, failed to plow their fields because the 
Lord would surely come "before another winter." This convic- 
tion grew among others in that area so that even if they had 
planted their fields they felt it would be inconsistent with their 
faith to take in their crops. We read: 

"Some, on going into their fields to cut their grass, found them- 
selves entirely unable to proceed, and, conforming to their sense 
of duty, left their crops standing in the field, to show their faith 
by their works, and thus to condemn the world. This rapidly 
extended through the north of New England." (The Advent 
Herald, Oct. 20, 1844, p. 93) 

Such conviction naturally prepared men to give a sympathetic 
ear to the proclamation that the day of the Lord would come on 
October 22. By midsummer a new stimulus had been given to 
Millerism in New England. Backsliders were reclaimed, and new 
ardor controlled those Adventists who accepted Snow's reckon- 
ing, as they went out to proclaim the cry, "Behold, the Bride- 
groom Cometh, go ye out to meet Him." Indeed, Snow declared 
that only now was the true midnight cry being given.** 



19 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

It is interesting that it was the insistence of the ordinary mem- 
bers of the Millerite movement that the October date be accepted. 
The leaders of the movement resisted it and counseled against it for 
a long time but to no avail. A Millerite editor, writing in retro- 
spect, commented: 

At first the definite time was generally opposed; but there 
seemed to be an irresistible power attending its proclamation, 
which prostrated all before it. It swept over the land with the 
velocity of a tornado, and it reached hearts in different and distant 
places almost simultaneously, and in a manner which can be ac- 
counted for only on the supposition that God was [in] it. . . . 

The lecturers among the Adventists were the last to embrace 
the views of the time. ... It was not until within about two 
weeks of the commencement of the seventh month [about the 
first of October], that we were particularly impressed with the 
progress of the movement, when we had such a view of it, that 
to oppose it, or even to remain silent longer, seemed to us to be 
opposing the work of the Holy Spirit; and in entering upon the 
work with all our souls, we could but exclaim, "What were we, 
that we should resist God?" It seemed to us to have been so inde- 
pendent of human agency, that we could but regard it as a fulfill- 
ment of the "midnight cry." 

In the period from mid-August to the predicted new day, 
October 22, 1844, things reached an incredible pitch of fervor, 
zeal, and conviction: 

Elder Boutelle describes the period thus: "The 'Advent Herald', 
'the Midnight Cry', and other Advent papers, periodicals, pamph- 
lets, tracts, leaflets, voicing the coming glory, were scattered 
broadcast and everywhere like autumn leaves in the forest. Every 
house was visited by them. ... A mighty effort through the 
Spirit and the word preached was made to bring sinners to re- 
pentance, and to have the wandering ones return." 

The camp meetings were now so crowded that they were no 
longer orderly as they had been. If there had been a time when 
an undesirable element could be kept out, it was now impossible 
to do so; and as a matter of fact the world was so near its end, as 
they claimed, whatever precautions were taken before seemed 
hardly worth while any longer.*^ 

The most active endeavors were made by the Millerites during 
these closing weeks to broadcast what they believed was the truth 

20 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 



concerning the exact time of Christ's advent. Extra issues of The 
Midnight Cry and The Advent Herald were published. The 
editor of The Midnight Cry stated that in order to provide the 
literature needed they were keeping "four steam presses almost 
constantly in motion." 

Further evidence on the extent of the conviction and the drive 
to persuade and convert others is the fact that now even many 
of the leaders were advocating partial cessation of normal activi- 
ties on the part of believers so they would have more time to 
convert others and spread the word. An editorial in the final issue 
of The Midnight Cry proclaimed: 

Think for eternity! Thousands may be lulled to sleep by hear- 
ing your actions say: "This world is worth my whole energies. 
The world to come is a vain shadow." O, reverse this practical 
sermon, instantly] Break loose from the world as much as pos- 
sible. If indispensable duty calls you into the world for a moment, 
go as a man would run to do a piece of work in the rain. Run 
and hasten through it, and let it be known that you leave it with 
alacrity for something better. Let your actions preach in the 
clearest tones: "The Lord is coming" — "The Time is short" — 
"This world passeth away" — "Prepare to meet thy God."" 

A news story in The Midnight Cry stated: 

Many are leaving all to go out and warn the brethren and the 
world. In Philadelphia, thirteen volunteered at one meeting (after 
hearing Brother Storrs) to go out and sound the alarm. ... In 
both cities [New York and Philadelphia], stores are being closed, 
and they preach in tones the world understands, though they may 
not heed it.** 

And Nichol points out: 

There were several reasons why the believers in a number of 
instances sold their possessions in part or in whole. First, they 
wished to have more money with which to support the cause. It 
took money to support four presses running constantly, pouring 
out literature on Millerism. Second, they wished to have all their 
dealings with their fellow men honorably concluded before the 
advent, including full payment of all their debts. Third, with the 
fervent love for others, which true religion certainly ought to 
generate in the hearts of men, Millerites who owed no debts 
themselves sought to help others pay their debts. Some Millerites, 



21 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Stimulated by the realization that soon earthly gold would be 
worthless, and warmed in their hearts with a love for their fellow 
men, wished to make gifts to the poor, both within and without 
the faith." 

But October 22 came and went, and with it all the hopes of 

the Millerites. This was the culminating disconfirmation and, at 
last, conviction was shattered and proselyting was stilled. The 
plight of the heavily committed followers was pitiable indeed. 
They had to bear the taunts and jeers of a hostile world and many 
were left pauperized. Their cruel disappointment and the hard- 
ship are well attested to. Nichol quotes two extracts from the 
writings of convinced believers that tell the sad story: 

"Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a 

spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It 
seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no 
comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn. I mused in 
my own heart, saying, My advent experience has been the richest 
and brightest of all my Christian experience. If this had proved a 
failure, what was the rest of my Christian experience worth? Has 
the Bible proved a failure.' Is there no God, no heaven, no golden 
home city, no paradise? Is all this but a cunningly devised fable? 
Is there no reality to our fondest hope and expectation of these 
things? And thus we had something to grieve and weep over, if 
all our fond hopes were lost. And as I said, we wept till the day 
dawn." " 

"The 22nd of October passed, making unspeakably sad the 
faithful and longing ones; but causing the unbelieving and wicked 
to rejoice. All was still. No Advent Herald; no meetings as for- 
merly. Everyone felt lonely, with hardly a desire to speak to any- 
one. Still in the cold world! No deliverance— the Lord [had] 
not come! No words can express the feelings of disappointment 
of a true Adventist then. Those only who experienced it can enter 
into the subject as it was. It was a humiliating thing and we all 
felt it alike . . ." " 

The disconfirmation of October 22 brought about the collapse 
of Millerism. It had taken three or perhaps four disconfirmations 
within a period of eighteen months, but this last one was too 
much. In spite of their overwhelming commitments, Miller's fol- 
22 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

lowers gave up their beliefs and the movement quickly disinte- 
grated in dissention, controversy, and discord. By the late spring 
of 1 845 it had virtually disappeared. 

The history of the Millerites shows again the phenomenon we 
have noted in our other examples. Although there is a limit be- 
yond which belief will not withstand disconfirmation, it is clear 
that the introduction of contrary evidence can serve to increase 
the conviction and enthusiasm of a believer. 

Historical records are replete with further instances of similar 
movements of a millennial or messianic character. Unfortunately 
for our purpose, however, in most instances the data which would 
be relevant to our hypotheses are totally absent. Even in cases 
where considerable data are available, there will frequently be 
some crucial point which is equivocal, thus destroying the cogent 
relevance to our hypotheses. The best instance of such a move- 
ment where there is one single controversial point on a crucial 
issue is the very beginnings of Christianity.** 

There is quite general agreement among historians that the 
apostles were both convinced and committed. None would ques- 
tion that the apostles fully believed in the things Jesus stood for 
and had altered their lives considerably because of this belief. 
Burkitt, for example, states that Peter, at one point, "exclaimed 
that he and his companions really had left all to follow Jesus." *• 
Thus, we may assert that the first two conditions which we stated 
early in the chapter are fulfilled. 

There is no denying that the apostles provided support for one 
another and that they went out to proselyte following the cruci- 
fixion of Jesus. Thus, we may accept as fact that the fifth condi- 
tion we mentioned is satisfied, and that there was a point at which 
proselyting increased. 

But the third and fourth conditions remain in doubt. Was there, 
in essence, something in the belief system that was amenable to 
clear and unequivocal disconfirmation and, if so, did such discon- 
firmation occur? In spite of many things which are not disputed, 
the major issue is shrouded in disagreement among various his- 
torians. There is general agreement that Jesus, in various ways, 

23 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

implied that he was the Messiah or Christ. More important, it is 
also clear that his disciples recognized him as such. For example, 
Scott states: "When directly challenged by Jesus, Peter speaking 
for the group of disciples said, 'Thou art the Messiah.' " *" 

It is also clear that, at least so far as other Jewish sects of that 
day were concerned, the Messiah could not be made to suffer 
pain. Thus Simpson states: "With equal certainty it may be af- 
firmed that no department of Judaism had ever conceived of a 
suffering Messiah." " If this were all there were to it one would 
assert that the crucifixion and the cry Jesus uttered on the cross 
were indeed an unequivocal disconfirmation. 

But this is not all there is to it. Many authorities assert unequiv- 
ocally that it is precisely on this question that Jesus introduced 
new doctrine. Jesus and the apostles, these authorities state, did 
believe that the Messiah had to suffer and Jesus even predicted 
that he would die in Jerusalem. Burkitt says: ". . . we end with 
Peter declaring, 'Thou art the Messiah' and with Jesus saying, 
practically, in reply, 'Yes, and I go now to Jerusalem; but who- 
ever wants to follow Me there must renounce all ambitious hopes 
and accompany Me — to execution.' " If this view is maintained 
then the crucifixion, far from being a disconfirmation, was indeed 
a confirmation of a prediction and the subsequent proselyting of 
the apostles would stand as a counter-example to our hypotheses. 
The authorities we have quoted from above accept this latter 
interpretation and, in fact, they are in the majority. 

But not all authorities agree. At the other extreme of interpre- 
tation is Graetz, who states: 

When the disciples of Jesus had somewhat recovered from the 
panic which came upon them at the time he was seized and exe- 
cuted, they re-assembled to mourn together over the death of 
their beloved Master. . . . Still, the effect that Jesus produced 
upon the unenlightened masses must have been very powerful; 
for their faith in him, far from fading away like a dream, became 
more and more intense, their adoration of Jesus rising to the high- 
est pitch of enthusiasm. The only stumbling-block to their belief 
lay in the fact that the Messiah who came to deliver Israel and 
bring to light the glory of the kingdom of heaven, endured a 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

shameful death. How could the Messiah be subject to pain? A 
suffering Messiah staggered them considerably, and this stumbling- 
block had to be overcome before a perfect and joyful belief could 
be reposed in him. It was at that moment probably that some 
writer relieved his own perplexities and quelled their doubts by 
referring to a prophecy in Isaiah, that "He will be taken from the 
land of the living, and will be wounded for the sins of his 
people." *^ 

Was it or was it not a disconfirmation? We do not know and 
cannot say. But this one unclarity makes the whole episode incon- 
clusive with respect to our hypotheses. 

There are many more historical examples we could describe 
at the risk of becoming repetitive and at the risk of using highly 
unreliable data. Let the examples we have already given suffice. 

We can now turn our attention to the question of why in- 
creased proselyting follows the disconfirmation of a prediction. 
How can we explain it and what are the factors that will deter- 
mine whether or not it will occur? 

Since our explanation will rest upon one derivation from a gen- 
eral theory, we will first state the bare essentials of the theory which 
are necessary for this derivation. The full theory has wide impli- 
cations and a variety of experiments have already been conducted 
to test derivations concerning such things as the consequences 
of decisions, the effects of producing forced compliance, and 
some patterns of voluntary exposure to new information. At this 
point, we shall draw out in detail only those implications that 
are relevant to the phenomenon of increased proselyting follow- 
ing disconfirmation of a prediction. For this purpose we shall 
introduce the concepts of consonance and dissonance.** 

Dissonance and consonance are relations among cognitions — 
that is, among opinions, beliefs, knowledge of the environment, 
and knowledge of one's own actions and feelings. Two opinions, 
or beliefs, or items of knowledge are dissonam with each other if 
they do not fit together— that is, if they are inconsistent, or if, 
considering only the particular two items, one does not follow 
from the other. For example, a cigarette smoker who believes that 

25 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

smoking is bad for his health has an opinion that is dissonant with 
the knowledge that he is continuing to smoke. He may have 
many other opinions, beliefs, or items of knowledge that are 
consonant with continuing to smoke but the dissonance neverthe- 
less exists too. 

Dissonance produces discomfort and, correspondingly, there 
will arise pressures to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. At- 
tempts to reduce dissonance represent the observable manifesta- 
tions that dissonance exists. Such attempts may take any or all 
of three forms. The person may try to change one or more of the 
behefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance; to ac- 
quire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing 
consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or 
to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are 
in a dissonant relationship. 

If any of the above attempts are to be successful, they must 
meet with support from either the physical or the social environ- 
ment. In the absence of such support, the most determined efforts 
to reduce dissonance may be unsuccessful. 

The foregoing statement of the major ideas about dissonance 
and its reduction is a very brief one and, for that reason, it may 
be difficult to follow. We can perhaps make these ideas clearer 
to the reader by showing how they apply to the kind of social 
movement we have been discussing, and by pointing out how 
these ideas help to explain the curious phenomenon we have ob- 
served. 

Theoretically, what is the situation of the individual believer 

at the pre-disconfirmation stage of such a movement? He has a 
strongly held belief in a prediction — for example, that Christ will 
return — a belief that is supported by the other members of the 
movement. By way of preparation for the predicted event, he has 
engaged in many activities that are entirely consistent with his 
belief. In other words, most of the relations among relevant cog- 
nitions are, at this point, consonant. 

Now what is the effect of the disconfirmation, of the unequivo- 
cal fact that the prediction was wrong, upon the believer? The 
26 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 
disconfirmation introduces an important and painful dissonance. 
The fact that the predicted events did not occur is dissonant with 
continuing to believe both the prediction and the remainder of 
the ideology of which the prediction was the central item. The 
failure of the prediction is also dissonant with all the actions that 
the believer took in preparation for its fulfillment. The magnitude 
of the dissonance will, of course, depend on the importance of 
the belief to the individual and on the magnitude of his prepara- 
tory activity. 

In the type of movement we have discussed, the central belief 
and its accompanying ideology are usually of crucial importance 
in the believers' lives and hence the dissonance is very strong — 
and very painful to tolerate. Accordingly we should expect to 
observe believers making determined efforts to eliminate the dis- 
sonance or, at least, to reduce its magnitude. How may they ac- 
complish this end? The dissonance would be largely eliminated 
if they discarded the belief that had been disconfirmed, ceased 
the behavior which had been initiated in preparation for the ful- 
fillment of the prediction, and returned to a more usual existence. 
Indeed, this pattern sometimes occurs and we have seen that it 
did happen to the Millerites after the last disconfirmation and to 
the Sabbataians after Zevi himself was converted to Islam. But 
frequently the behavioral commitment to the belief system is so 
strong that almost any other course of action is preferable. It may 
even be less painful to tolerate the dissonance than to discard the 
belief and admit one had been wrong. When that is the case, the 
dissonance cannot be eliminated by giving up the belief. 

Alternatively, the dissonance would be reduced or eliminated if 
the members of a movement effectively blind themselves to the 
fact that the prediction has not been fulfilled. But most people, 
including members of such movements, are in touch with reality 
and cannot simply blot out of their cognition such an unequivocal 
and undeniable fact. They can try to ignore it, however, and they 
usually do try. They may convince themselves that the date was 
wrong but that the prediction will, after all, be shortly confirmed; 
or they may even set another date as the Millerites did. Some 

27 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Millerites, after the last disconfirmation, even ventured the opin- 
ion that the Second Coming had occurred, but that it had oc- 
curred in heaven and not on the earth itself. Or believers may try 
to find reasonable explanations and very often they find ingenious 
ones. The Sabbataians, for example, convinced themselves when 
Zevi was jailed that the very fact that he was still alive proved he 
was the Messiah. Even after his conversion some stanch adherents 
claimed this, too, was part of the plan. Rationalization can reduce 
dissonance somewhat. For rationalization to be fully effective, 
support from others is needed to make the explanation or the 
revision seem correct. Fortunately, the disappointed believer can 
usually turn to the others in the same movement, who have the 
same dissonance and the same pressures to reduce it. Support for 
the new explanation is, hence, forthcoming and the members of 
the movement can recover somewhat from the shock of the dis- 
confirmation. 

But whatever explanation is made it is still by itself not sufli- 
cient. The dissonance is too important and though they may try 
to hide it, even from themselves, the believers still know that the 
prediction was false and all their preparations were in vain. The 
dissonance cannot be eliminated completely by denying or ration- 
alizing the disconfirmation. But there is a way in which the re- 
maining dissonance can be reduced. If more and more people can 
be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it 
must, after all, be correct. Consider the extreme case: if everyone 
in the whole world believed something there would be no ques- 
tion at all as to the validity of this belief. It is for this reason that 
we observe the increase in proselyting following disconfirmation. 
If the proselyting proves successful, then by gathering more ad- 
herents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the 
believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it. 

In the light of this explanation of the phenomenon that prose- 
lyting increases as a result of a disconfirmation, let us take an- 
other, and more critical, look at the historical examples we have 
offered in evidence. There are a number of grounds for feeling 
unsatisfied with them as proof. 
28 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

In the first place there is a scarcity of data of the sort required 
by our analysis. It is an understandable lack, for the people col- 
lecting historical records were not concerned with our particular 
problem, but it is a lack nonetheless. Even our best documented 
example, the Millerites, contains little evidence on actual prose- 
lyting behavior, especially among the mass members. Statements 
about proselyting must be inferred largely from evidence about 
the number of adherents and the size and frequency of meetings. 
But such signs as these are dependent not only on the effort made 
to proselyte — the desire to convince others — but also on the 
effectiveness of the efforts and on the state of mind of prospective 
converts. 

Even where there is direct evidence about proselyting attempts, 
such as the number of speeches made, the fact that Miller and 
Himes traveled widely, or that the Millerite presses worked 
twenty-four hours a day, these are activities of the leaders. There 
is very little concrete evidence of the proselyting activities of the 
ordinary members, whose behavior is most significant for our 
purposes. Leaders of a social movement may, after all, have mo- 
tives other than simply their conviction that they have the truth. 
Should the movement disintegrate, they would lose prestige or 
other rewards. 

And if the Millerite case is inadequately documented for our 
purposes, our other examples are even more poorly supported. 
On the Sabbataian movement we have virtually no data concern- 
ing the initial disconfirmation in 1648, for the very good reason 
that the movement attracted little attention (and, hence, there 
were few records of it) until it became very large and important. 

A second reason for considering historical data alone as inade- 
quate is the small likelihood that this kind of data could challenge 
our explanation. Suppose we could find record of a mass move- 
ment that had apparently collapsed immediately after disconfir- 
mation. In the absence of adequate measurement, we might well 
conjecture that the members' commitment to the belief was small 
— so small that the dissonance introduced by disconfirmation was 
enough to force the discarding of the belief. Alternatively, if the 

29 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

commitment could be demonstrated to have been heavy, it is still 
possible that there were attempts to proselyte following discon- 
firmation, but that these attempts had been unsuccessful. This 
would be a tenable contention since it is the results of proselyting 
efforts that generally find their way into historical records rather 
than the efforts themselves. 

There is a type of occurrence that would indeed disprove our 
explanation — namely, a movement whose members simply main- 
tained the same conviction after disconfirmation as they had be- 
fore and neither fell away from the movement nor increased their 
proselyting. But it is precisely such an occurrence that might very 
well go unnoticed by its contemporaries or by historians and 
never find its way into their annals. 

Since the likelihood of disproof through historical data is small, 
we cannot place much confidence in the supporting evidence 
from the same sources. The reader can then imagine the enthusi- 
asm with which we seized the opportunity to collect direct 
observational data about a group who appeared to believe in a 
prediction of catastrophe to occur in the near future. Direct 
observations made before, during, and after the disconfirmation 
would produce at least one case that was fully documented by 
trustworthy data directly relevant to our purpose. 

One day in late September the Lake City Herald carried a two- 
column story, on a back page, headlined: prophecy from planet. 

CLARION CALL TO CITY: FLEE THAT FLOOD. IT'LL SWAMP US ON DEC. 2 1 , 

OUTER SPACE TELLS suBtHiBANiTE. The body of the story expanded 
somewhat on these bare facts: 

Lake City will be destroyed by a flood from Great Lake just 
before davra, Dec. 21, according to a suburban housewife. Mrs. 
Marian Keech, of 847 West School street, says the prophecy is 
not her own. It is the purport of many messages she has received 
by automatic writing, she says. . . . The messages, according to 
Mrs. Keech, are sent to her by superior beings from a planet 
called 'Clarion.' These beings have been visiting the earth, she 
says, in what we call flying saucers. During their visits, she says, 
they have observed fatilt luies in the earth's crust that foretoken 

30 



UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES AND DISAPPOINTED MESSIAHS 

the deluge. Mrs. Keech reports she was told the flood will spread 
to form an inland sea stretching from the Arctic Circle to the 
Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, she says, a cataclysm will sub- 
merge the West Coast from Seattle, Wash., to Chile in South 
America. 

The story went on to report briefly the origin of Mrs. Keech's 
experiences and to quote several messages that seemed to indicate 
she had been chosen as a person to learn and transmit teachings 
from the "superior beings." A photograph of Mrs. Keech accom- 
panied the story. She appeared to be about fifty years of age, and 
she sat poised with pad and pencil in her lap, a slight, wiry woman 
with dark hair and intense, bright eyes. The story was not de- 
rogatory, nor did the reporter comment upon or interpret any 
of the information he had gathered. 

Since Mrs. Keech's pronouncement made a specific prediction 
of a specific event, since she, at least, was publicly committed to 
belief in it, and since she apparently was interested to some extent 
in informing a wider public about it, this seemed to be an oppor- 
tunity to conduct a "fiield" test of the theoretical ideas to which 
the reader has been introduced. 

In early October two of the authors called on Mrs. Keech and 
tried to leam whether there were other convinced persons in her 
orbit of influence, whether they too believed in the specific pre- 
diction, and what commitments of time, energy, reputation, or 
material possessions they might be making in connection with the 
prediction. The results of this first visit encouraged us to go on. 
The three of us and some hired observers joined the group and, 
as participants, gathered data about the conviction, commitment, 
and proselyting activity of the individuals who were actively 
interested in Mrs. Keech's ideas. We tried to leam as much as 
possible about the events that had preceded the news story, and, 
of course, kept records of subsequent developments. The means 
by which the observers gained entree, maintained rapport, and 
collected data are fully described in the Appendix. The informa- 
tion collected about events before early October is retrospective. 
It comes primarily from documents and from conversations with 

31 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

the people concerned in the events. From October to early Janu- 
ary almost all the data are first-hand observations, with an occa- 
sional report of an event we did not cover directly but heard 
about later through someone in the group of believers who had 
been there at the time. 

The next three chapters are a narrative of events from the be- 
ginning of Mrs. Keech's automatic writing up to the crucial days 
in December just before the cataclysmic flood was expected. 

These chapters provide background material. They will intro- 
duce the members of the group, describe their personal histories, 
their involvement in the movement, and the preparations they 
made for the flood. We shall also describe the ideology accom- 
panying the prediction and some of the other influences to which 
the group was exposed. Such background is necessary to make 
understandable some of the behavior and the events that led up 
to the night of December 21. Much of this material is not directly 
relevant to the theoretical theme of the book, but we hope that 
these details will re-create for the reader some of the vividness 
of these months. 



32 



CHAPTER II Teachings and Prophecies 

from Outer Space 



1 HE first contact between a prophet and the source of his reve- 
lation is likely to be marked by confusion and astonishment, not 
to say shock. So it was with Mrs. Marian Keech, who awoke near 
dawn one morning in the early winter about a year before the 
events with which we are concerned. "I felt a kind of tingling 
or numbness in my arm, and my whole arm felt warm right up 
to the shoulder," she once remarked later, in describing the inci- 
dent. "I had the feeling that someone was trying to get my atten- 
tion. Without knowing why, I picked up a pencil and a pad that 
were lying on the table near my bed. My hand began to write 
in another handwriting. I looked at the handwriting and it was 
strangely familiar, but I knew it was not my own. I realized that 
somebody else was using my hand, and I said: 'Will you identify 
yourself?' And they did. I was much surprised to find that it was 
my father, who had passed away." 

Although it was her most impressive experience with psychic 
phenomena, the message from her father was by no means the 
first contact Mrs. Keech had had with the occult, either as an 
interested student or as a participant. At least fifteen years earlier, 
while living in New York, she had been invited by an Indian 
acquaintance to attend a lecture on theosophy. She was fasci- 
nated by what she heard, and deeply impressed with the pro- 
fundity of the lecturer's message. She attended several lectures on 
theosophy and, after each, picked up a mimeographed copy of the 
talk to study it more carefully. 

In the years following her exposure to theosophy, Mrs. Keech's 
deep strain of curiosity about the cosmos and about her own 

33 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

nature led her to explore a variety of sources of enlightenment. She 
read the works of Godfre Ray King (Guy Ballard), the founder 
of the I AM movement, and the idea that one might "walk in the 
light" of superior knowledge was communicated to her. During 
a lengthy convalescence she became absorbed in Oahspe, sub- 
titled "A Kosmon Bible." The Reverend John Ballou Newbrough, 
who held the first copyright on Oahspe, disclaimed authorship 
in the ordinary sense when he asserted that the contents of the 
book were given to him by direct revelation; he served merely 
as the scribe of higher forces. Oahspe challenges the orthodox 
Christian account of human downfall by setting forth a story of 
the division of mankind into two forces: the "Faithists," who for- 
swore war, dissipation, and drunkenness and followed God's com- 
mandments; and the "Uzians," signifying destroyers. 

Besides her quest for cosmic knowledge, Mrs. Keech sought 
insight into herself. She joined a dianetics group and was "cleared" 
by an auditor and friend who later took up residence in Mrs. 
Keech's home. Discussing this experience later, she remarked: "I 
prefer to call it Scientology, which is the art and science of taking 
someone back as far in his life as he can go. My friends have 
helped me take myself back to the period of my birth — in fact, 
even before my birth. I can remember the day I was conceived." 
On another occasion, Mrs. Keech explained that everyone knew 
his true identity when he was born, but, in growing up, lost this 
clear knowledge and, thus, his true self. One of the chief advances 
in Scientology, she felt, was that it not only made possible an 
understanding of the circumstances of an individual's conception 
and birth, but also gave access to knowledge of one's identity in 
earlier incarnations. 

At about the same time that she began to receive messages from 
nonterrestrial sources, Mrs. Keech had become actively interested 
in one of the major popular mysteries of our time —flying saucers. 
Her interest led her to attend one or more lectures on the subject 
by an expert on saucers who expounded the belief that these 
objects did indeed transport visitors from outer space or other 

34 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OUTER SPACE 

planets. The connection between extraterrestrial messages and 
such visitors was probably immediately apparent to Mrs. Keech. 

With this background of esoteric knowledge, Mrs. Keech took 
her first active step into the occult when she transcribed her 
father's message. Like many beginnings, it was not especially im- 
pressive. It was a letter from her father to her mother giving some 
instructions to the latter for planting flowers that spring. There 
was a certain amount of information about her father's state of 
spiritual health, and a brief, and rather unclear, description of his 
present surroundings and his "way of life" in "the astral." Un- 
clarity and incoherence were characteristic of this first message 
as well as of several of the immediately subsequent ones. They 
were written haltingly and contained many indecipherable words 
and perplexing neologisms. Mrs. Keech concluded that the fault 
lay at least partially in her, and set herself the task of developing, 
through concentration, through prayers for help and guidance, 
and through constant, obedient practice, a higher level of skill in 
transcribing the messages from the spiritual realm. 

She soon learned that the world was populated with scoflters 
and unbelievers. At her father's command she had transmitted his 
first message to her mother, who answered by reprimanding her 
and ordering her to stop such nonsense or, at least, to stop inflict- 
ing it upon her living parent. Disheartened, but undeterred by 
this rebuff, Mrs. Keech continued to believe in her newly devel- 
oped ability. She accustomed herself to sit each day for a message, 
or a lesson, and spent many hours in bitter frustration, often 
plagued by doubt, as she tried to grasp the meaning of the words 
and phrases her pencil wrote. On some days there were no mes- 
sages at all. 

As she struggled, she gradually became aware that other beings 
or intelligences were trying to "get through to" her. "It occurred 
to me," she subsequently said, "that if my father could use my 
hand, Higher Forces could use my hand. I have always been inter- 
ested in my fellow men and I have always wanted to be of service 
to mankind. I don't mind telling you I prayed very diligently that 
I would not fall into the wrong hands." During this early phase 

35 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

of message writing, Mrs. Keech apparently came to fear that she 
would "fall into the hands" of beings located in "the astral." She 
explained that the astral is overflowing with spirits who are des- 
perate for communication with those left behind, and whose in- 
sistent clamor can confuse or obliterate the intelligence available 
from higher beings, who dwell at higher (i.e., less dense) spiritual 
vibration frequencies. 

Mrs. Keech's prayers were answered. Within a short time she 
began to receive messages from a being who identified himself as 
"the Elder Brother" and informed her that her father was in con- 
siderable need of spiritual instruction in order that he might ad- 
vance to higher levels. Between them, Mrs. Keech and the Elder 
Brother attempted to provide such instruction, but her father 
proved a recalcitrant pupil, overly concerned with the earthly 
affairs of those he had left behind. He was inattentive and mis- 
chievous, as is, apparently, the wont of astral spirits, and finally 
the Elder Brother gave up, instructing Mrs. Keech to turn her 
attention to a more feasible and important task — her own spiritual 
development. 

Gradually, as spring wore on, she developed greater and greater 
facility at receiving messages, while the number of her communi- 
cators increased. Besides the Elder Brother, she began to receive 
writings from other spiritual beings who dwelt on the planets 
Clarion and Cerus. Toward mid-April she began to receive com- 
munications from Sananda, who was destined to become her most 
important source of information and instruction, as well as her 
principal link with orthodox Christian revelation, for Sananda 
subsequently identified himself as the contemporary identity of 
the historical Jesus — his new name having been adopted with the 
beginning of the "new cycle" or age of light. 

In spite of her growing facility, Mrs. Keech was still concerned 
about her ability and fearful lest the superior beings abandon her 
as a promising pupil. On Easter morning her mind was set at ease 
on that point, however, when, just after she awakened at 7 a.m., 
she received the following message from the Elder Brother: 

"I am always with you. The cares of the day cannot touch you. 

36 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OXTTER SPACE 

We will teach them that seek and are ready to follow in the light. 
I will take care of the details. Trust in us. 

"Be patient and learn, for we are there preparing the work for 
you as a connoiter. That is an earthly liaison duty before I come. 
That will be soon. 

"You were directed to tell your experiences of my coming to 
you, for it prepares the way in their hearts. I will come again to 
teach each of you. They that have told you that they do not 
believe shall see us when the time is right." 

Mrs. Keech often commented upon the significance of this 
message and on the spiritual comfort she found in it. It was ap- 
parently the first unequivocal promise to her of instruction and 
guidance from those she came to call the Guardians; it assured 
her, in the Elder Brother's own words, that her writing was genu- 
inely from him, not from some inferior source; and it assured 
her again that she was to tell other mortals of her experiences in 
"extrasensory perception." This last point is important for our 
study. This is the first indication we have of anything that might 
be construed as proselyting on her part. We may hazard the 
guess, from the message as well as from her own subsequent de- 
scription of this phase, that she did not tell very many people 
and was not very successful in convincing them that she was in- 
deed endowed with special powers of reception. 

Such messages, referring to proselyting, were infrequent during 
the spring. However, since attempts to proselyte followers are 
one of the main objects of concern in our study, we will do well 
to follow the thread of promptings to this end which are con- 
tained in Mrs. Keech's early messages, as well as to examine what 
we know of her behavior during this period. 

A few days after the Easter message Mrs. Keech received a 
commimication from one of Sananda's assistants promising to 
teach Mrs. Keech "Many truths you do not understand." The 
message continued: 

"What can you do for us.^ Well, you can go tell the world 
that we have at last contacted the Earth planet with the waves of 
ether that have become tactable by the bombs your scientists have 

37 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

been exploding. This works like an accordian. When the con- 
densation leaves the carceious level of the ether or atmosphere 
levels that support a large light layer of marine life, it causes a 
barrier to be set up. Now that the bombs have broken that bar- 
rier we can break through. That is what your scientists call the 
sonic barrier. We have been trying to get through for many of 
your years, with alcetopes and the earling timer." 

In order to help her learn and "tell the world," Mrs. Keech was 
advised in another message later the same day: 

"This is a new study for you and we will be lepient with you 
for the experience will be very shocking to you." You will need 
real level-thinking people around you. Get a couple of learned 
friends that can stabilize you. Let them know what you are doing. 
Let them watch with you to see that you are not misunderstood. 
Share what you have with each other. Share all — and be enlight- 
ened — to those who are ready." 

In another message two weeks later, Sananda reassured Mrs. 
Keech that her prayers for protection and guidance were being 
heard and answered, then instructed her: "The connoiter's work 
is to spread the news, tell the story, and be fearless in the doing. 
The world mind is still in lethargy. It does not want to awaken." 

To the extent that these messages reflect Mrs. Keech's own 
wishes rather than the will of superior beings on other planets, 
they tell us clearly enough that she was beginning to feel some 
urge to communicate the special knowledge she felt she possessed. 
But what did she do about these promptings.!" 

Unfortunately, knowledge of her first efforts at finding fellow 
believers is scanty and somewhat confused, for both Mrs. Keech 
and the people who later surrounded her have been hazy about 
dates and places, and have sometimes contradicted not only each 
other but themselves. From our limited evidence, we can infer a 
few things, however. We know that she discussed her experiences 
with her husband, who was quite unreceptive. A man of infinite 
patience, gentleness, and tolerance amounting almost to self- 
abasement, he never believed that his wife could communicate 
with other worlds, yet he never actively opposed her activities 

38 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OtTTER SPACE 

or sought to dissuade her from her writing. He simply went about 
his ordinary duties in the distributing company where he was a 
traffic manager, and did not allow the unusual events in his home 
to disturb in the slightest his daily routine. 

We can be fairly sure that she acted on the counsel of the 
Guardians to get a couple of friends and tell them what she was 
doing, for by June a female acquaintance from nearby Highvale 
was freely devoting time and energy to typing multiple copies 
of some of the more important messages Mrs, Keech had received. 
We know that it was through conversation with this woman that 
at least two of the most faithful of Mrs. Keech's followers learned 
about her. This same woman introduced Mrs. Keech to a small, 
informal circle of housewives who met in various Highvale homes 
to discuss dianetics, Scientology, metaphysics, and occult topics. 
At one or more such meetings, Mrs. Keech read extracts from her 
"lessons" and described how she received these messages. We 
have good reason to conclude that she was in intermittent contact 
with a second group of students of dianetics in downtown Lake 
City. 

Perhaps most important was the occasion when she discussed 
her writings with the lecturer and expert on the subject of flying 
saucers mentioned earlier. At one of his talks in Lake City, Mrs. 
Keech described her experiences and showed him some of the 
messages. He appears to have been impressed by her, for, some 
time later, while he was on a lecture tour that brought him to the 
Steel City Flying Saucer Club, he seems to have given Mrs. Keech 
a favorable notice. In particular, he talked about her work to Dr. 
Thomas Armstrong, a frequent attender at meetings of this club. 
Dr. Armstrong was a physician who Uved in Collegeville, a small 
community about one hundred miles from Steel City. Since he 
and his wife, Daisy, were to play highly prominent parts in the 
subsequent development of the group that gathered around Mrs. 
Keech, we shall say more about them and explain as best we can 
the route by which they became involved. 

Thomas and Daisy Armstrong, Kansas bom and raised, had 
served as medical missionaries in E^pt for one of the liberal 

39 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Protestant churches. For about five years they spread gospel and 
health, returning on furlough to the United States just at the out- 
break of World War II. The war prevented their return to the 
mission field until 1946, when they again set out, with high hopes 
and ideals, and with three children. This time, however, they had 
an unpleasant sojourn — at least Daisy Armstrong did, for she 
suffered a "nervous collapse" as she once described it. Bedeviled 
by nightmares that featured violence and bloody death, she could 
not rid herself of the obsession that her loved ones were in im- 
minent danger of injury from sharp objects, especially knives, 
axes, swords, and the like. She had persistent dreams and fantasies 
of cuttings, stabbings, and beheadings. Even the simple tools on 
her husband's workbench had to be put out of sight, since they 
terrified her. 

Mrs. Armstrong's anxieties did not yield to any of the attempts 
she and her husband made to overcome them. Although she rec- 
ognized her feelings as unreasonable, she could not will them 
away. Nor did her husband's reassurances, changes in the house- 
hold regimen, and a short vacation do any good. Even prayer 
did not help. The Armstrongs were especially distressed by this 
last disappointment. As Mrs. Armstrong once put it, they could 
not understand why they had been singled out for persecution 
by such malignant emotion; after all, they had always led a good 
life, had tried to do the right thing, and were certainly engaged 
in good works. Why they then? "We finally decided there must 
be a reason," she added, "and we started searching." This may be 
why the Armstrongs turned to the study of mysticism and the 
occult, in which they read widely and eclectically. They studied 
some of the sacred writings of Hinduism, the Apocrypha, Oahspe, 
and books and pamphlets on theosophy, Rosicrucianism, New 
Thought, the I AM movement, and the mj^tical (though not, 
apparently, the political) writings of William Dudley Pelley. The 
ideas they encountered in this literature, and discussed at length, 
seem to have opened their minds to possibilities that many people 
regard with incredulity. They believed in the existence of a spirit 
world, whose masters could communicate with and instruct peo- 
40 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OXTTER SPACE 

pie of the earth; were convinced that extrasensory communica- 
tion and spiritual migration (without bodily change or motion) 
had occurred; and subscribed to many of the more common oc- 
cult beliefs, including reincarnation. 

In 1949 they returned to the United States and Dr. Armstrong 
took a post as a member of the Student Health Service staff at 
Eastern Teachers College. His work there was evidently of a 
routine nature and left his mind and time free to continue explora- 
tion of esoteric literature. The Armstrongs continued to partici- 
pate in orthodox Christian religious activities. They attended a 
nondenominational Protestant church, where Dr. Armstrong or- 
ganized "The Seekers," a group for young people, principally 
college students, which met once a week to discuss ethical, reli- 
gious, metaphysical, and personal problems, always seeking truth. 
A tall man in his early forties, Dr. Armstrong had an air of ease and 
self-assurance that seemed to inspire confidence in his listeners. 

Any topic was grist for the Seekers' mill, so it may have been 
no surprise to most of the members when Dr. Armstrong began 
to show considerable interest in flying saucers. Just why his atten- 
tion was drawn to this phenomenon is not clear. But one winter 
he found reason to visit southern California. While there he 
sought out George Adamski who, in collaboration with another, 
had recently published The Flying Saucers Have Landed. This 
book related Adamski's meeting with a being who is alleged to 
have landed in a flying saucer near Desert Center, California. 
Adamski says that he talked with the man and his book contains 
a drawing of the footprints that the visitor left behind when he 
climbed back into the saucer and blasted off for Venus, his home 
base. Dr. Armstrong enjoyed a lengthy interview with Adamski 
and came away convinced that flying saucers were real, not illu- 
sory, that they came from other planets, and that they carried 
men, or beings, who were visiting the earth on missions of ex- 
ploration and observation. He also came away with an enlarged 
copy of the drawing of the Venusian footprints, whose curious 
interior markings seemed to him symbols of a mysterious sort. 

Upon Dr. Armstrong's return to CoUegeville, his wife also be- 

41 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

came interested and charged herself with the task of interpreting 
the message carried by these footprints — a task which she had 
completed to her satisfaction by May 22 of the year they met 
Marian Keech. Her interpretation of the footprints forecast a 
rising of the submerged continents of Mu and Atlantis, an event 
that would be consistent with the flooding of the North Ameri- 
can continent. Much later on, in August, when Marian Keech 
received the prediction of a flood on December 21, Daisy Arm- 
strong emphasized that this prediction was all the more likely to 
be correct since her own interpretation, arrived at independently, 
was corroborative evidence. 

Sometime during late April or early May the Armstrongs 
learned of Mrs. Keech from the expert on flying saucers. The 
Armstrongs wrote to Mrs. Keech shortly thereafter, expressing 
an interest in her work and telling her something of their own 
explorations in the occult. 

Meanwhile, according to Mrs. Keech, she had received a mes- 
sage from Sananda to "Go to Collegeville. There is a child there 
to whom I am trying to get through with light." Since she knew 
no one in that town, she was extremely puzzled, and uncertain 
about what to do. She seized upon the Armstrongs' letter with 
delight; it was too fitting to be a coincidence, she felt. This con- 
tact with people who had only yesterday been strangers in a town 
populated by strangers must have great signiflcance. She subse- 
quently decided that Daisy Armstrong was the "child" referred 
to in the instruction, a decision to which Mrs. Armstrong quickly 
assented since she felt that the Guardians had been trying to "get 
light through to her" for a long time and she felt that her own 
blindness and unreceptivity to these attempts had been the root 
of her "nervous collapse" in Egypt. 

From the initial contact, developments proceeded rapidly, and 
not even the two hundred miles between Lake Qty and College- 
ville inhibited the growth of a close friendship. Letters were ex- 
changed during May and June and, in late June, the Armstrongs 
drove to Lake Qty to pay a visit to Mrs. Keech, It was evidendy 
a meeting of like minds, for the Armstrongs not only prolonged 
42 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OUTER SPACE 
their stay but invited Mrs. Keech to return their visit. She spent 
the Fourth of July weekend in CoUegeville. The change in locale 
did not seem to interrupt the flow of communication from outer 
space. During July Mrs. Keech's productivity remained high. She 
sometimes received as many as ten messages or "lessons" in a 
single day, and scarcely a day passed without a communique of 
some kind from outer space. 

The contents of these messages were diverse, and they covered 
a vast range of topics from brief descriptions of the physical en- 
vironment and diet on other planets to warnings and forebodings 
of war and destruction soon to plague the earth, intermingled 
with promises of enlightenment, joy, and unparalleled new ex- 
periences in store for those who would "listen and believe." They 
varied considerably in length, from one or two sentences to as 
much as six or seven hundred words, although most were about 
two hundred fifty words long. 

It is difficult to give a clear, simple picture of the entire belief 
system as it is revealed in these messages. The ideology was not 
only complex, but also pliant, changing this way and that in 
response to new influences (perhaps new people whom Mrs. 
Keech met, or new publications she saw). For the purpose of pro- 
viding background, we shall set down the general propositions 
condensed from the messages, and iUustrate them by extracts 
from the writings themselves. Wherever possible, we shall pro- 
vide the "official" definitions of unfamiliar words or expressions, 
taken from the glossary provided by Mrs. Keech or from the 
usage current among believers at the time of our observations. 

The first proposition is that there is a universe of planets be- 
yond the solar system of the earth, which universe is at least par- 
tially inhabited by beings of superior intelligence, wisdom, and 
skill, possessing an enormously advanced technology. These be- 
ings bear some resemblance to humans but they exist at a higher 
"vibratory frequency" (i.e., lower density) than humans do, and 
are able to carry out, through thought or "knowing," what hu- 
mans must depend upon action and manipulation of physical 
forces to accomplish. 

43 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Thus, for example, Sananda informed Mrs. Keech on July 8 
that "The Guardians are beings of the UN [intelligence of the 
Creator; mind of the High Self] who have risen to the density- 
seven or eight, who are UN as the Oneness with the Creator, who 
can and do create by the UN the casement or vehicle they chose 
to use in the seen." Another Guardian, on May 14, speaking from 
"the Seventh Sector Density of Creton" (presumably a planet in 
the "constellation of Gems") explained: "We are in the avagada 
[space ship] of light force propulsion. We are like the human 
beings of Earth and have much in common; though there are 
millions of years difference in our culture, we are still brothers. 
What we enjoy as natural everyday enjoyments, you of the world 
cannot yet imagine." Sananda briefly commented on the planet 
Qarion, "It is a beautiful place to live. We have weather — snow 
and rain. We adjust our bodies to the temperature." He described 
the diet of the Guardians as "the bread of increase, which is like 
a snowflake." 

On April 24 several messages provided this information: "We 
are coming through your atmosphere and being seen by your 
astronomers. They say it is large sun spots. The various mediods 
of communication with the people of Earth can be explained by 
the various frequencies that we operate on. Our systems are very 
complicated to you; in reality they are very simple. ... I am 
coming via inter-conscious-perception, which you call telepathy 
... It is our common means of communication and is used be- 
tween our own planet and all the others we have communication 
with. How many you ask? We cannot number them for you 
have not enough paper to write the 000s on. This is staggering 
to you, for we have been learning for millions of years. . . . We 
know no death, as you do. It is as a cocoon turns into a moth — 
very consciously and voluntarily — iwActz we need or desire the 
change. We never go back to the former lear [our Earth body]." 
Sananda further described the communication technique in these 
words: "The thermin ["that which records our thoughts, actions 
etc. in the Losolo"] you heard was really from Cerus. It is the 
engine-like affair that we use for timing the vibratory impulses 

44 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OUTER SPACE 

that come from your Earth. This communication is being re- 
corded by your thermin. It looks much like a large looking glass 
and your thoughts are recorded on it as quickly as you think. 
And we beam back our impulses in the form of magnetic energy. 
It is done with a celecoblet, something your scientists have not 
yet imaged." 

The second major proposition is that the Guardians are instruc- 
tors or teachers in a school of the universe, called "the Losolo" 
(located on Cerus), who are communicating with Mrs. Keech 
in order to teach her — and, through her, other humans — those 
principles, ideas, and guides to right conduct that are necessary 
to advance the spiritual development of the human race and to 
prepare the people of the earth for certain changes that lie ahead. 
Thus, Mrs. Keech was told that "It is ignorance of the Universal 
Laws that makes all the misery of the Earth"; and that "We see 
and know that you struggle in darkness and want to bring real 
Ught, for yours is the only planet that has war and hatred. . . . 
We feel no sadness but are interested in the progress of the peo- 
ple of your Earth. Why? We are all brothers. Need I tell you 
more.f" 

Elder Brother encouraged Mrs. Keech with a report of prog- 
ress: "Since we have been in contact with your planet, your 
people have been responding to our forces of light for the ad- 
vancement of the human race on your Earth." "Surely," remarked 
Sananda on a later occasion, "there is light and it shall be revealed 
to you. You are coming to the end of the age of darkness. The 
light of the world shall be made manifest by the coming of the 
earlings. The earlings are the beings who are inhabiting the re- 
gions you call the atmosphere. The atmosphere is alive with 
beings of such a vibratory rate that the dense people of Earth 
cannot see them." 

A number of messages promised visitation from outer space 
and gave some hint of the visitors' interest in earth. Early in April 
Sananda said: "The saucers are over West Virginia taking listings 
of the world's industrial people that make war material and profit 
from war assets. They are going to land and make contact with 

45 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

you people of Earth in May. ... It may be June when they 
land in West Virginia." In mid-May Elder Brother mentioned 
that "we are coming into your Earth vision in numbers and will 
be seen by many over the city of New York, Washington, D.C., 
Seattle, and Chicago. We will land in various places, including 
West Virginia, the Carolinas, and Vermont. We have contacts 
there." Elder Brother also promised an even more interesting 
project— visits to other planets: "We are planning to take some 
people for a trip to our plane— that is, planet. We are trying to 
make arrangements for a party of six from Westinghouse to visit 
our territory. Is that a surprise to you? We have had people from 
your world with us. There is one in Syracuse, New York, one 
in Schenectady, New York, one in Rockford, Illinois, one in Cali- 
fornia—there are more than one in California and Arizona and 
Oregon. Two of them are now on our planet Union. They were 
there on Earth for a special mission." 

By early summer portents of the flood prediction had already 
made their appearance. It gradually becomes apparent, as one 
leafs through the messages of that period, that the teaching of 
Mrs. Keech and the schemes for interplanetary exchange of per- 
sons have behind them the rationale of averting or mitigating an 
expected universal disaster. 

The earliest messages hint darkly of trouble ahead for the earth 
but they are vague in intent. On May 23, however, Sananda came 
right out and said: "We are planning to come in great numbers 
in the weeks ahead, as the war preparations are being formulated 
. . . [certain earth dwellers] will be gathered up and relieved of 
the experiences of the holocaust of the coming events." The theme 
of war is adumbrated in a number of other messages during the 
late spring and early summer, and there are many references to 
the blessedness of harmony and peace, to the misery, futility, and 
madness of conflict. In several places, the Guardians promise Mrs. 
Keech that those who "instruct the people of Earth in slaughter" 
will meet a dark and awful justice soon, and warn: "the people 
of Earth are rushing, rushing toward the suicide of themselves. 
... To this we are answering with signs and wonders in the 

46 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OXTTER SPACE 
sky." There are, however, no explicit references to the nature of 
the "holocaust" or to any specific catastrophe on the earth during 
May, June, or July. It is not until late August that the messages 
begin to warn her more directly of what is ahead for humanity. 

There are many other interesting lessons in the collection — far 
more than we have space to cite. In part the contents reflect the 
events of Mrs. Keech's daily life — the presence of guests and 
visitors in her home, the appearance of a new inquirer (for whom 
there is almost always praise and promise of great things to 
come), or the disappearance of a former disciple (usually with 
rueful comments from the Guardians on the difficulty of enlight- 
ening the people of the earth). There are messages of reassurance, 
of protection against "the dark forces" around her. There are 
fulminations against warmongers, scientists, nonbelievers, and ma- 
terialists. And there are many, many messages of exhortation: to 
love thy neighbor; to "seek the light"; to cease thinking ("To 
think is of the second density" and "There is no advantage to 
thinking when we are studying the teaching of the Creator") and 
"to be still of the five senses" so that there may be "direct know- 
ing" or "inner knowing," achieved by believing in the words of 
"the Father," or "the Creator." Above all she was urged to be 
patient, obedient, and faithful. These qualities were often put to 
severe tests. 

From time to time the Guardians had given Mrs. Keech pre- 
dictions of specific future events, such as the landing of flying 
saucers and visits by space people. She had also been issued a 
number of "orders" to carry out simple tasks or to go to certain 
places. Thus, in April, Sananda told her: "When you go to the 
lecture you will be contacted by a man from Langley Field. He 
has been on our planet for a brief stay. He will say to you: 'You 
are early.' That will be his sign to you that he knows you. He 
came through the atmosphere on a beam of light." On another 
occasion she was "ordered" to go to a certain street comer in 
downtown Lake City, and she waited there for nearly an hour, 
wearying, although nothing unusual occurred. Several times she 
was promised saucer "sightings" at or near her home, but was 

47 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

disappointed. The strongest test of her convictions and her loy- 
alty to her teachers, however, came as a result of a prediction she 
received late in July. 

On the morning of July 23, Mrs. Keech's pencil vi^rote this 
momentous message: "The cast of light you see in the southern 
sky is of our direction and is pulsating with a turning, spinning 
motion of the craft of the 'tola' [space ship] which is to land 
upon the planet in the cast of the day of August first — at the 
Lyons field. It will be as if the world was coming to an end at 
the field when the landing occurs. The operators will not believe 
their senses when they see the craft of outer space in the midst 
of the field." This message concluded: "It is a very accurate cast 
that we give." 

In further communications, Mrs. Keech got word to be at 
Lyons field — a military air base — by noon in order to witness the 
landing. A number of her acquaintances learned of her plan, ap- 
parently through the offices of the friend who was currently 
typing copies of the lessons. Mrs. Keech subsequently made it 
plain that she had no intention of gathering a crowd for the occa- 
sion, yet she evidently did not regard her mission as a secret one. 
"I didn't want to start a trafiic jam by telling anybody that there 
was going to be a landing at Lyons field on August the first, 
because I knew that if all the saucer enthusiasts got on the high- 
way to see the saucers there would be a jam. So I wasn't going 
to say anything about it." But the news leaked out and several 
people asked if they might join the expedition or meet her at the 
field. Dr. Armstrong and his wife were in Lake City at the time, 
as weekend guests of Mrs. Keech, and asked if they might accom- 
pany her. The three of them reached the field just before noon. 

Near the main gate of the field, the Armstrongs and Mrs. Keech 
were joined by another car or two of acquaintances, and the 
whole group sought out a lightly traveled road that bordered the 
field. Selecting a place that offered a good view of the runways 
and the sky, they parked and prepared to wait. "We didn't know 
what we were looking for; we were looking for saucers," Mrs. 
Keech once said, in describing the incident. "As we stood there 
48 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OXTTER SPACE 
eating our lunch from the back of the car, just standing in the 
fields alongside the road and looking up at the sky through our 
polaroid pieces that we had brought with us, we must have looked 
very silly to the ones who didn't sit around the table [outsiders, 
or those who did not share the feast of knowledge provided by 
the Guardians]." 

Suddenly Mrs. Keech became aware that an unknown man had 
approached the party. Although the road was long and straight 
and the fields bordering it offered neither cover nor concealment, 
she had not seen him walking toward them; it was as if he had 
materialized out of thin air. He crossed the highway toward the 
group and, as he drew nearer, she sensed something strange, 
almost eerie in his appearance and manner. She recalls a somewhat 
strange "look in his eye" and a curiously rigid bearing. 

One of the ladies in the party was alarmed, and urged Mrs. 
Keech to "be careful; that man is crazy." But, instead of fear, 
Mrs. Keech felt only curiosity and sympathy for the stranger on 
this hot, dry road far from comfort or refreshment. From the 
back of her car she got a sandwich and a glass of fruit juice, and 
offered them to him, but he declined, slowly and politely. 

"I couldn't imagine anybody that time of day on a lonely high- 
way not wanting a cold drink. I asked him again, but he just said: 
'No thank you.' I looked at his eyes — eyes that looked through 
my soul — and the words sent electric currents to my feet. Yet 
I wasn't on the beam. As we stood there looking in the sky for 
saucers, he would look up and then he would look at us, at me 
especially. After I had offered him food, he turned and walked 
away. I felt very sad. I didn't know why at the time. I thought 
'what can I give him to eat? What else have we got that I can 
give him?' I turned to my car [to get a slice of watermelon] 
which was about twenty feet away. As I reached it, I looked 
back and he was gone— just gone. He was no place to be seen. 
And I felt, I became — oh I can't tell you; there's no word for it. 
I knew something was going on that I didn't understand. I knew 
I was close to something." 

The remainder of the vigil was uneventful. No saucers landed 

49 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

at Lyons field in the next two hours and an air of disappointment 
pervaded the assembly. Mrs. Keech was grave. "I thought to my- 
self: That message did come through my hand. I am more or less 
responsible if I have misled anyone today." And she prayed for 
guidance. The group dispersed, and, when she was again alone 
with the Armstrongs and another friend, she began to probe their 
collective feelings: "I said: 'Well, what do you people feel?' 
Everyone agreed that something had happened on the roadside, 
but we didn't know what it was or how to explain it. We were 
all sensitized to that degree —that something had happened though 
we had no mental concept of it." 

She was not to remain in ignorance long. Early on the morn- 
ing of August 2 her pencil traced these words: "It was I, Sananda, 
who appeared on the roadside in the guise of the sice." Although 
this word may be unfamiliar to the reader, Mrs. Keech recognized 
it at once. She had first encountered it in a curious story, trans- 
mitted to her on July 28, whose significance was not immediately 
apparent to her.* But when the message of August 2, from Sananda, 

• As it will probably not be to the average reader, either, for whose 
edification the account is reproduced here, verbatim, from the mimeo- 
graphed lessons: "Sara and Justine were cast as the boy and the girl; to 
each a love of the Creator. As they came to the great city of the center 
of the Earth, which is called the CITY of the self — the child, Sara, asks 
Justine: 'Which way to the Father's house?' To Sara, Justine said: 'To be 
a Carter, or one who finds his way, is the great cast for which he was 
created.' As they journeyed to the city of the Self, in the center of the 
Earth, they were overtaken by the coy Uttle scice [variant spelling for sice], 
which was a mink. He was in disguise of the rabbit, which was a cousin 
to the grouse. 

" 'What a coy little sice is the rabbit,' was the girl Sara's cry which, as 
the sice had said, 'a cousin of the grouse — the GROUSE — the RA-BBIHT -~ 
the SaCE.' 'WHAT WAS WHAT?' cried Sara. The boy Justine cried, 
'We have arrived in the land of thinking! The sice thinks he will cast a 
spell of thinking upon us in the darkness of night while we are lost.' 

"To them the gates of the treasure of the kingdom swung open, where 
the greatest of all treasures were found — the scice in the garden of increase, 
where he was only the scice -NO CX)USINS-NO ANCESTRY. He 
was just l\ir. Scice, WHO was himself, as the girl and boy, to the great 
Creator of the City of Self. Each to his own, as a silent witness of the 
CITY in the Middle of the Earth . . . Scice and Child alike in the Creator's 
City. Each found his way to the GARDEN OF SELF, each in his Creator's 
Qarden." 



50 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OUTER SPACE 
reached her, she drew the conclusion that "the sice" was the 
Guardians' term for "one who comes in disguise," or "one whose 
true identity is unknown," and she immediately attached signifi- 
cance to the fact that the "story of the sice" had been transmitted 
to her before she went to Lyons field. 

This explanation of the "something" that had happened by the 
roadside appears not only to have satisfied Mrs. Keech intellectu- 
ally, but to have brought to her a special joy, an exultation that 
far outweighed the disappointment over the disconfirmed predic- 
tion. For, although no saucers had landed at Lyons, a greater gift 
had been bestowed upon her. She had looked upon Jesus (in an- 
other body, of course, and in disguise), had talked with him, and 
had performed the simple Christian act of offering hospitality to 
the casual, undistinguished stranger. Her enlightenment was ec- 
static, and tinged with awe. Why should she have been chosen 
to receive the reincarnated Son of God? More deeply than ever 
the conviction overcame her that she was especially selected, that 
the voices she heard and the presences she felt were real, were 
valid, were the very stuff of transcendent life — and she their 
humble earthly vehicle. 

On August 3, Sananda prepared her for possible future visits 
when he said: "While the guest of Earth is in the seen, he has 
many guises — as the sice he comes — as the giver of love he comes 
— as the one who calls by telephone — the glad in heart for the 
proferred bread and drink." 

Twelve people stood by the roadside at Lyons field that hot 
August noon, but only five remained disciples in December. To 
all of them, in various degrees, the failure of the predicted saucer 
landings must have been a disappointment; some never recovered, 
apparently, and dropped Mrs. Keech forthwith, as a false prophet. 
Two disappeared from her influence for a time, but returned 
later; only the Armstrongs remained steadfast throughout. They 
were with Mrs. Keech in the immediate aftermath, when they 
"all agreed that something had happened" at the field, and re- 
mained with her, as her house guests, the next day when the reve- 
lation from Sananda was dictated. If they had had doubts of 

51 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Mrs. Keech's extraordinary powers on Sunday afternoon, these 
must have been dispelled by Monday when they read Sananda's 
message and noted Mrs. Keech's radiant confidence, her renewed 
faith, and her touching humility. Indeed they seem to have felt 
the same sentiments themselves. 

Theoretically, we would expect an increase in proselyting fol- 
lowing the disconfirmation of the Lyons field prediction. Unhap- 
pily, our report of this incident suflfers from the same lack of data 
as do most of the historical examples we discussed in Chapter I. 
There were no observers present to report Mrs. Keech's activities 
during August and we have no direct evidence of what she did. 
Although the messages she received during that month contain 
some urgings to proselyte, our collection of messages from this 
period is so fragmentary that we can hardly draw any conclusions. 

A couple of weeks after the incident of the sice Mrs. Keech 
went for an extended visit to CoUegeville. There she continued to 
receive extraterrestrial messages and wrote sometimes for as many 
as fourteen hours a day. Lengthy discussions with the Armstrongs 
about esoteric matters seem to have affected Mrs. Keech's beliefs. 
One notices an increasing emphasis in her lessons on religious 
matters, such as the nature of heaven, the crucifixion of Jesus, 
the power and glory of God, the relationship between "the God 
of Earth" and "the Creator." There is a lesson devoted to com- 
ments on the identity between angels and "higher density" beings 
from outer space, and, in this connection, a discussion of "the 
miracle of Fatima in the land of California." More and more 
frequent references to "the Father" and "the Father's children" 
(believers) occur in the lessons. Simultaneously, there begin to 
appear in the lessons references to geophysical prehistory, espe- 
cially accounts of the submersion of Atlantis, and of its sister 
"continent" Mu, in the Pacific Ocean (which occurred during a 
deadly war of "atomic" weapons between Atlantis and Mu). 

An account of the origin of the earth's population also begins 
to emerge. It seems that eons ago, on the planet Car, the popula- 
tion divided into two factions: "the scientists," led by Lucifer, 
and "the people who followed the Light," under the banner of 

5* 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OUTER SPACE 

God and in the command of Christ. The "scientists," having in- 
vented something analogous to atom bombs — in those days, the 
name was "alcetopes" — threatened to destroy the hosts of Light 
and, through their fumbling cleverness, succeeded in blowing to 
pieces the planet Car. The disappearance of Car, as an integrated 
mass, produced enormous disturbances in the balance of the omni- 
verse ("all universes") and nearly caused complete chaos. Mean- 
while, the forces of Light had retreated to other planets, such as 
Clarion, Uranus, and Cerus, where they regrouped and considered 
their next strategy. Lucifer led his troops, their minds now oblit- 
erated of cosmic knowledge, to earth. 

Since that prehistoric day, "the cycle" has begun anew, and 
threatens to repeat itself. Lucifer is abroad today, in disguise, and 
has been leading our contemporary scientists in their construction 
of ever greater weapons of destruction. If the headlong plunge 
into fission is allowed to continue, the tragedy of the destruction 
of Car may be repeated: Earth will be fragmented and the whole 
solar system disrupted. The forces of Light have not been idle; 
Christ's visit to earth, as Jesus, was the initial attempt to reclaim 
mankind, to persuade them to desert the Prince of Darkness, and 
it was partially successful. There is a portion of the population 
of the earth who are open and receptive to "the Light," who can 
hear the still voice of the Creator, or God, and act rightly in His 
service. But the forces of evil (and science) are extremely power- 
ful, and the followers of Light may not be able to conquer in 
time to escape another explosion. 

This sketchy account cannot do justice to the complexity of 
the rationale that the Armstrongs and Mrs. Keech appear to have 
assembled during July, August, and September, but it may orient 
the reader to the view they had of the future. It may also explain, 
to some extent, their deep concern with both the dimmest events 
of the distant past and the most awful possibilities of the immediate 
future. We have had to confine ourselves, in this account, to only 
the most salient features of the ideology and have omitted many 
of the elaborations it contains. Thus we have perhaps given an 
impression of greater orderliness than actually exists in the les- 

53 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

sons themselves, for they contain an extraordinary range of mate- 
rial complexly interwoven from a whole host of sources. If 
nothing else, the Armstrongs and Marian Keech were eclectics. 

We use this term advisedly, for we must make it perfectly 
clear to the reader that the ideology was not invented, not cre- 
ated de novo, purely in Mrs. Keech's mind. Almost all her 
conceptions of the universe, the spiritual world, interplanetary 
communication and travel, and the dread possibilities of total 
atomic warfare can be found, in analogue or identity, in popular 
magazines, sensational books, and even columns of daily papers. 

The notions of reincarnation and spiritual rarification (through 
changes in "vibratory density") are likewise echoed in many 
"modem cults and minority religious movements." * There have 
been numerous accounts of the "continents" of Atlantis and Mu, 
and attempts to explain their "disappearance" into the oceans. 
The idea that heavenly representatives will visit earth to instruct 
mankind through chosen instruments and to rescue those whose 
conduct and beliefs have marked them for salvation is older than 
Christianity. 

Furthermore, there is evidence that all these ideas, singly or in 
combinations, are sincerely and fully believed by a great many 
people. Certainly, the books and periodicals in which they appear 
are widely read. Equally certain is that many of the readers en- 
gage in various actions that testify to their faith, such as joining 
particular groups, adopting certain ritual practices, giving money, 
and trying to convince others that the ideas are true. 

So, if the reader has come to the hasty conclusion that the 
ideology constructed by Mrs. Keech's pencil is merely the unique 
raving of an isolated madwoman and that only "crazy people" 
would be able to accept and believe it, let him take further 
thought. True, Mrs. Keech put together a rather unusual combi- 
nation of ideas — a combination peculiarly well adapted to our 

• To borrow a phrase from the subtitle of Charles S. Braden's book 
These Also Believe (New York: Macmillan, 1949), which see for an objec- 
tive, scholarly, readable account of several marginal groups of believers in 
America. See especially his descriptions of theosophy, the I AM movement, 
Psychiana, spiritualism, and Jehovah's Witnesses. 

54 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OUTER SPACE 

contemporary, anxious age —but scarcely a single one of her ideas 
can be said to be unique, novel, or lacking in popular (though 
not, for the most part, majority) support. 

The Armstrongs and Mrs. Keech had more than an abstract 
connection with other groups having interests similar to their 
own. The Armstrongs belonged to at least one flying saucer club 
and Mrs. Keech had often attended lectures on the subject. Both 
homes were on the subscriber lists for such publications as the 
Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom, the Romd 
Robin of the Borderland Sciences Research Associates, and the 
Newsletter of the group called Civilian Research on Interplane- 
tary Flying Objects. Such periodicals were often proffered to 
visitors at the Keech and Armstrong homes, and references to 
them were frequently made to substantiate Mrs. Keech's point of 
view. Mrs. Keech declared that there were a number of other 
groups in the United States that were also receiving enlighten- 
ment from outer space, although from a different set of teachers. 

It was against the background of this ideology that the pre- 
diction of cataclysmic disaster began to emerge. With Mrs. Keech 
in CoUegeville, she and the Armstrongs had formed a team. While 
Mrs. Keech wrote, Daisy Armstrong busied herself typing out 
carbon copies of the lessons, and the doctor scanned them, adding 
here and there a commentary or citing some evidence from an- 
other source that threw light on the more obscure passages in the 
Guardians' discourses. 

The first explicit reference to the impending disaster had ap- 
peared among Sananda's messages on August 2, the day after the 
visit of the sice. That message read: "the Earthling will awaken 
to the great casting [conditions to be fulfilled] of the lake seeth- 
ing and the great destruction of the tall buildings of the local city 
— the cast that the lake bed is sinking to the degree that it will 
be as a great scoop of wind from the bottom of the lake through- 
out the countryside. You shall tell the world that this is to be, 
for such it is given. To you the date only is secret, for the panic 
of men knows no bounds." 



55 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

This Startling information was considerably expanded in a long 
communique from Sananda on August 15, which read in part: 

"And the scenes of the day will be as mad. The grosser ones 
will be as mad. And the ones of the light will be as the sibets 
[students] of teachers who have drilled them for this day. . . . 
In the carting [plan] it is cast [conditions to be fulfilled] that 
the event will begin at dawn and end swiftly as a passing cloud — 
in the seen. 

"When the resurrected have been resurrected or taken up — it 

will be as a great burst of light . . . the ground in the earth to 
a depth of thirty feet will be bright ... for the earth will be 
purified. 

"In the midst of this it is to be recorded that a great wave 
rushes into the rocky mountains — the ones of the covered area 
will be as the com [group] of the newly dead. The slopes of the 
side to the east will be the beginning of a new civilization upon 
which will be the new order, in the light. As it is recorded the 
three mountain ranges to stand at the cast of the guards, are the 
Alleghenies, the Catskills, the Rocky Mts. 

"Yet the land will be as yet not submerged, but as a washing 
of the top to the sea, for the purpose of purifying it of the earth- 
ling, and the creating the new order. Yet will it be of the light, 
for all things must first be likened unto the housecleaning, in 
which the' chaos reigns first, second the order. 

"this is dated not in symbology . . . THE real! of real — 

REALITY YET." 

Ten days later came the third great message which made ex- 
plicit the further ramifications of the great events: 

"This is not limited to the local area, for the cast of the coun- 
try of the U.S.A. is that it is to break in twain. In the area of the 
Mississippi, in the region of the Canada, Great Lakes and the 
Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico, into the Central America will 
be as changed. The great tilting of the land of the U.S. to the East 
will throw up mountains along the Central States, along the Great 
New Sea, along North and South — to the South. The new moun- 
tain range shall be called The Argone Range, which will signify 

5<5 



TEACHINGS AND PROPHECIES FROM OLTTER SPACE 

the ones who have been there are gone — the old has gone past — 
the new is. This will be as a monument to the old races; to the 
new will be the Altar of the Rockies and the Alleghenies." 

On August 27, Sananda filled out the picture of world-wide 
upheaval and change in a long, elaborate message that specifically 
forecast that Egypt would be remade and the desert would be- 
come a fertile valley; Mu would rise from the Pacific; the "upris- 
ing of the Atlantic bottom" would "submerge the land of the 
Atlantic seaboard"; France would sink to the bottom of the At- 
lantic, as would England; and Russia would become one great sea. 

We can only imagine the awe, the reverence, with which the 
Armstrongs and Mrs. Keech received these momentous pro- 
nouncements. Here, in the hands of three fairly ordinary people 
(by the world's standards) had been placed the most important 
news of our time, if not of all recorded history. A grave respon- 
sibility, an incomparable privilege had been thrust upon them. 

It was Dr. Armstrong who saw his duty clearly and promptly 
did it. On August 30, he dispatched more than fifty copies of a 
seven-page mimeographed "Open Letter to American Editors and 
Publishers." In it he proclaimed the coming catastrophe, cited 
precedents from the submersion of Mu, and Christian parallels 
from chapters of Luke, and gave an account, with examples, of 
Mrs. Keech's "ESP lessons." The body of the letter did not men- 
tion the specific date predicted but stated in several places that 
the cataclysm was "very, very near." Copies of the release that 
we saw in October carried a handwritten addendum: "latest re- 
lease—Date of evacuation Dec. 20." Some of the releases actually 
sent to the press may have also borne this legend. 

The maiHng of this press release marks the end of the first phase 
of Mrs. Keech's and the Armstrongs' activities. Up till now, the 
"lessons" had been virtually a private matter among Mrs. Keech 
and her friends. Dr. Armstrong's action changed things. In one 
gesture, he made the news of the flood public property, he com- 
mitted himself and his reputation to a specific prediction of 
world-wide cataclysm, and he took the first step toward the 
organization of a movement. 

57 



CHAPTER III 



Spreading the Word 
on Earth 



The publicity release that Thomas Armstrong mailed to "Ameri- 
can Editors and Publishers" on August 30 was an important move 
for the believers personally, since it represented their first attempt 
to "tell the world"; but its practical, social effect was disappoint- 
ing. Apparently not even one of the more than fifty recipients 
published the announcement or requested further information. 
We have no record of how the triad of leaders felt about this fail- 
ure, but it is clear what they did. On September 17, Dr. Arm- 
strong sent out a second, much briefer, release. 

The second dispatch was addressed to the same audience and 
signed by Dr. Armstrong. The letter consisted of a single-page 
synopsis of a "cosmic play" in which "we are all actors on the 
world stage" and "We are also the audience and know not the 
plot." "Two thousand years ago we played the scenes of the time 
of Jesus. Now, as Sananda, the Great Director is to put on the 
final show of the season." The two final paragraphs of the release 
contained the crucial material: 

"The scene is Lake Qty and the country around. The date is 
December 21. As the scene opens it is dawn but still dark. The 
actors are awakened to the sound of a terrible rumbling. The 
earth shakes; the tall buildings topple. The waters of Great Lake 
rise in a terrific wave which covers the city and spreads east and 
west. A new river forms and flows from the lake to the Gulf of 
Mexico. 

"Glad are the actors who have awaited the coming of the 
Guardians. Amid the cries of anguish the question is heard: 'Why 
didn't someone tell us that we might have moved to safety.'' But 

58 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

in the days of the warnings they were told of the safe places — 
the eastern slopes of the Rockies, the Catskills, and the Allegheny 
Mountains — but they said, 'It can't happen here!'" 

It was apparently this second dispatch which led to the story 
in the Lake City Herald on September 23. A reporter telephoned 
Mrs. Keech for an interview and was invited to call at her house. 
She received him graciously and willingly devoted between two 
and three hours to answering his questions and showing him the 
verbatim messages in her several notebooks. But there was a curi- 
ous lack of a sense of urgency on Mrs. Keech's part. She felt, 
apparently, no need to preach, to threaten, to cajole or convert 
either the reporter or her fellow citizens. Her function, as she 
saw it, was to pass along the information given her by the Guar- 
dians. Those who were "ready" would see and heed the warning; 
those who were not would be swept away in the swirling waters 
of Great Lake. But even their drowning was of little importance 
because the victims would lose only their "physical bodies" and 
would be subsequently transported to planets appropriate to their 
spiritual development. 

The two press releases were not the only proselyting activity 
of the three believers. Sometime during early September, Mrs. 
Keech gave two or three readings from her written messages at 
the Metaphysical Bookstore in Lake Qty. We know little about 
these readings but their outcome was evidently disappointing and 
the series was abruptly ended. Mrs. Keech almost never referred 
to this episode afterward. 

The burst of proselyting between the end of August and the 
middle of September stands in marked contrast to the absence of 
such activity during the spring and early summer. Until the press 
release of August 30, proselyting had been on an extremely lim- 
ited scale, virtually confined to word-of-mouth dissemination 
among Mrs. Keech's circle of acquaintances and among their 
friends. During the spring and summer, Mrs. Keech apparently 
received a number of individual callers by this route, but she 
seems to have made no effort to attract widespread attention. In- 
deed, as the incident at Lyons field illustrates, she kept her plans 

59 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

a secret until the last minute and then merely gave permission to 
others to accompany her rather than actively inviting their par- 
ticipation. Her attitude toward the seekers who called at her 
home seems to have been the same: she received them graciously 
and answered their questions, but did not try to draw them in or 
to persuade them to believe. She had taken an extraordinarily pas- 
sive role in the proselyting process. 

What, then, accounts for this burst of proselyting in early Sep- 
tember? The most plausible explanation is that it was a response 
to the importance and urgency of the flood prediction itself — 
an initial surge of enthusiasm. Dr. Armstrong actually signed and 
sent the press releases, but Mrs. Keech must have agreed to their 
composition. She may even have had a hand in it, for she allowed 
her name to be mentioned in the first one, but she probably did 
not initiate it. Dr. Armstrong was, as we shall see later, consist- 
ently more active in publicizing his beliefs and had a greater sense 
of the urgency of his mission than Mrs. Keech had. He was also, 
perhaps, better trained for it and more experienced through his mis- 
sionary activity. 

Whatever the cause of the eruption of proselyting, the effects 
of it were remarkably small. Two or three other newspapers 
picked up the story from the Lake City Herald but none of them 
displayed it prominently or attempted to follow it up. A few 
letters trickled in to the Lake Qty paper inquiring for further 
details, and a few more were addressed directly to Mrs. Keech. 
But the impact of Mrs. Keech's news on the public at large was 
trifling. The citizens of the United States, even of Lake City, 
apparently greeted the warning of their coming destruction with 
apathy. 

Only one consequence of the newspaper publicity is worth 
more than casual mention, and that is the visit of the "spacemen." 
One morning shortly after the appearance of the newspaper story 
in Lake City, Mrs. Keech answered a knock at her front door to 
find two men who asked to talk to her. The spokesman for the 
pair seemed quite conversant with Mrs. Keech's extrasensory 
communications, with the forecast of the flood, and with her 
60 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

recent publicity. He appeared to be a perfectly ordinary human 
being, according to Mrs. Keech's subsequent account of the in- 
terview, while his companion had a strange appearance and, 
furthermore, uttered not a word during the entire visit. When 
she inquired their identity, the spokesman replied, "I am of this 
planet, but he is not," and Mrs. Keech could not obtain any 
more information than that. Although the discussion lasted at 
least half an hour, the burden of the visitors' message was simple: 
Mrs. Keech was not to publish or publicize her messages any 
further. Instead, she was to seal the books in her possession and 
wait for further orders which, presumably, would come from 
outer space. No further authority or reason for this command 
was given than that "the time is not right now." Having conveyed 
their message, the two men left. 

This visit puzzled Mrs. Keech, for she could not decide whether 
the two men were representatives from outer space bearing a 
genuine message from Sananda, or agents of Lucifer, bent on 
silencing the earth's only liaison with Clarion. Whatever the ex- 
planation of this unusual visit, there is no doubt that it diminished 
Mrs. Keech's imptdse to publicize her beliefs, for it caused her 
to abandon some tentative plans she had made to publish her 
lessons as a book. 

When two of the authors paid their first call on Mrs. Keech in 
early October, they foimd her receptive, friendly, and voluble 
about most of her beliefs. About the predicted cataclysm, how- 
ever, she was taciturn and almost secretive. It required repeated 
inquiry to find out whether there were any people besides the 
Armstrongs who believed in the genuineness of her messages and 
in the prediction; and to learn what, if anything, the believers 
planned to do to prepare for or cope with the flood. Not only 
was she reluctant to divulge specific facts and plans, but she 
seemed to want to avoid all discussion of the cataclysm. 

She made absolutely no explicit attempt to persuade or convert 
the two observers, but simply stated what she believed in a "take 
it or leave it" manner. At several points in the interview she 
reiterated the warning she had received to "avoid panic" and to 

6i 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

try to calm those around her. There was no excitement, no fervor 
in her manner, but almost a belle indifference to the awful pos- 
sibility of world destruction that she was discussing. She did not 
attempt to enroll the observers as followers, to persuade them to 
return for further information or enlightenment, or to get them 
to commit themselves or express their agreement with her views. 
Her nearest approach to overt proselyting was to respond gracious- 
ly, when she was asked if they could call again or write, "My 
latchstring is always out. I have been told that my door is to be 
always open to those who are ready." She was sure that those 
who were "ready" would be "sent" by higher spiritual forces, and 
would somehow find her house — in effect, there was no need for 
her to recruit or proselyte. 

So evasive was Mrs. Keech in the matter of talking about the 
flood and about followers, and so lackadaisical was she about 
proselyting that the observers would have learned much less and 
would have underestimated the vitality of the group if it had not 
been for the chance presence of Daisy Armstrong in Mrs. Keech's 
home when they called. Although Mrs. Keech dominated the in- 
terview and the observers directed most of their questions to her, 
it was Mrs. Armstrong who revealed the plans the group had to 
go to the Allegheny Mountains just before the flood was due. 
There they planned to establish an "altar" or spiritual community 
of believers who would presumably survive the flood and remain 
on the earth until Christmas of the following year when they 
would be taken, bodily as well as spiritually, to Clarion, Venus, 
or some other planet. There they would be spiritually indoctri- 
nated, preparatory to being sent back to the earth, a cleansed and 
innocent earth, to repopulate it with good people who "walked 
in the Light." It was Daisy Armstrong, too, who made known 
the existence of the knot of believers in Collegeville, the Seekers, 
led by herself and her husband. We shall have more to say of 
this group in a moment, after we have summarized briefly the state 
of proselyting, conviction, and commitment in the Lake City 
area around the beginning of October. 

It is clear that Mrs. Keech fully believed in the legitimacy of 
6z 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 
her messages and had publicly committed herself to the prediction 
of the flood both through Dr. Armstrong's press release and the 
interview she gave the Lake City Herald, and in discussing her 
beliefs with between one and two dozen friends and acquaint- 
ances in the Lake City area. Thus, her conviction and commit- 
ment were high, and they remained so throughout the course of 
the group's existence. Of proselyting, we cannot make definite 
statements. Such evidence as we have leads us to believe that Mrs. 
Keech gave only one group talk during the spring, and that she 
addressed small audiences on perhaps two occasions during the 
flurry of proselyting in early September. We also have reason to 
believe that she talked freely with callers who came to her home, 
two or three of whom she had encountered at earlier group meet- 
ings. As far as we can learn, however, the majority of the occa- 
sions on which Mrs. Keech informed others of her belief were 
initiated by someone other than herself. She welcomed overtures 
from others and did not discourage them from proselyting for 
her but rarely did she herself deliberately seek out opportunities 
to proselyte. 

Our information about believers is scanty up till the end of 
October, but, as far as we can tell, Mrs. Keech had only a few 
followers at this point. Perhaps as many as a dozen people had 
become temporarily interested at various times during the spring 
and summer. Some of these maintained their interest; others either 
quickly lost interest or had quarreled with Mrs. Keech and with- 
drawn. Even Mrs. Keech's husband felt that she was "on the 
wrong track" as far as the prophecy was concerned. When we 
interviewed her in early October her reply to a question about 
whether there were others who believed as she did was plain: "I 
have very few friends." As of mid-October, Mrs. Keech had few, 
if any, local followers. 

The Armstrongs, however, were more successful in obtaining 
followers. They were not reluctant to mention their beliefs to 
others. Dr. Armstrong, upon occasion, talked to members of the 
faculty and to patients at the college Health Service about mysti- 
cal beliefs. Most of the Armstrongs' acquaintances in Collegeville 

63 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

were familiar with their attachment to occult interests. But most 
important was Dr. Armstrong's role in the organization and lead- 
ership of the Seekers at the Community Church. 

The Seekers began in the previous spring when Dr. Armstrong 
was asked to act as a "resource person" at a student retreat spon- 
sored by the church. His participation aroused considerable in- 
terest, and a number of students wanted to see his influence ex- 
tended. They asked him to attempt some regular meetings during 
the college year and thus the Seekers group was bom. It appears 
to have flourished during that fall when the discussions seem to 
have been confined chiefly to Christian mysticism with perhaps 
a kind of "comparative religions" orientation. The group met 
once a week at the Community Church under Dr. Armstrong's 
leadership; attendance varied, but at least a dozen or fifteen stu- 
dents afiiliated with the church were in the habit of attending the 
meetings. 

When the Armstrongs began to develop a serious interest in 
flying saucers, this topic then became one of the central concerns 
of the Seekers. The doctor also began to discuss saucers and 
interplanetary travel in space ships with his colleagues and pa- 
tients. At first, the latter may have regarded him only as an 
exceptionally open-minded student of science-fiction. But when 
he began to talk in more concrete terms about his expectations 
of personal contact with outer space, tolerance seems to have 
given way in some quarters to alarm. That was evidently the case 
among the staff of the Community Church, for later in the spring, 
they requested Dr. Armstrong to eliminate discussion of flying 
saucers from the meetings of the Seekers or else to stop holding 
meetings in the church. He chose the latter alternative and the 
Seekers began to meet at his home on Sunday afternoons. Former- 
ly the group had been open to all comers, but in its new site it 
was restricted to those who were invited by Dr. Armstrong or 
by old members. Beyond these simple facts, we know little of 
the activities of the Seekers during this spring. The group had 
disbanded for the summer vacation before the prophecy of the 
flood was given to Mrs. Keech. 

64 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 
When the students reassembled in the fall, Dr. Armstrong had 
news for them. During late September and early October, at the 
weekly Sunday afternoon meetings, he spelled out the prophecy 
and some of the belief system that accompnied it. Much of what 
he said fell upon already fertile groimd, for most of his hearers 
were already convinced (or at least ready to believe) that mes- 
sages from the spirit world and visitors from other planets were 
not only possible but actual phenomena. They listened readily 
and he talked just as readily. At only one point, and that a crucial 
one, did some balk; they were uncertain, or unconvinced, that a 
flood would occur on December 21. Since the extent of convic- 
tion is a question of the utmost importance to our study, we shall 
deal later with the evidence about belief and commitment. For 
the moment, let us merely say that Dr. Armstrong attempted to 
proselyte for belief in Mrs. Keech's messages and her prediction 
among some fifteen or twenty young men and women who at- 
tended the Seekers' meetings fairly regularly. 

In mid-October, the Armstrongs began the systematic mimeo- 
graphing of excerpts from Mrs. Keech's writings. This activity 
continued until the last week in November when they stopped, 
for reasons tha:t we shaU discuss below. These mimeographed 
copies of the lessons were distributed to members of the Seekers 
and also to a mailing list, whose exact size was never revealed to 
us by the Armstrongs, but was alleged by them to contain be- 
tween 150 and 250 names of individuals and organizations such 
as flying saucer clubs and metaphysical societies. The lessons 
which were so mimeographed and distributed were entirely the 
early ones, the ones that Mrs. Keech had received before she was 
"given" the prediction of the flood and the date thereof. This 
failure to include the prediction may have come about through 
the Armstrongs' desire to avoid panic; or it may have stemmed 
from the concern of the principals that all potential converts be- 
gin at the very beginning of the series of lessons in order that 
their study might raise their vibratory frequency. 

On the basis of the evidence we have, it seems fair to charac- 
terize the proselyting of the Armstrongs during the early fall as 

65 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

fairly active but rather selective. The list of recipients for the 
mimeographed lessons was composed of people who were known 
or believed to be sympathetic to the ideology. In CoUegeville 
itself, the Armstrongs limited their discussion of Mrs. Keech's 
lessons and the flood prediction chiefly to a small circle — the 
Seekers who met at their home. Dr. Armstrong occasionally men- 
tioned flying saucers, Venusian footprints, and the like to patients 
and colleagues at the college, but even there he seems to have fol- 
lowed the doctrine that had developed from his intensive collabora- 
tion with Mrs. Keech — namely, that those who were "ready" 
would be "sent" to him. 

Of course, the relative inactivity of the Armstrongs outside the 
Seekers does not mean that the prophecy was a secret in CoUege- 
ville, for some of the Seekers themselves discussed the prediction 
with their acquaintances and their relatives. We do not know 
what instructions, if any, they were given by the Armstrongs 
regarding proselyting, but it seems extremely doubtful that the 
Seekers were encouraged to proselyte. Our evidence indicates 
that they too were cautious in discussing the prediction, that most 
were careful to choose their audiences from among those whom 
they considered most receptive and least likely to scorn them. 
When we discuss the behavior of individual members of the Seek- 
ers in more detail, we shall see that some of them proselyted by 
inviting acquaintances to attend the Sunday afternoon meetings 
at the Armstrong home, and some took part in bull-sessions with 
"outsiders." Certainly, however, they never preached the proph- 
ecy publicly or declared it at meetings or gatherings. 

Our general impression of selective proselyting is further borne 
out by the experience of one of our observers in his attempt to 
join the Seekers. A brief background is necessary here. At some 
point during the early fall (probably in October), Dr. Armstrong 
arranged to have the Seekers reinstated at the Community Church, 
apparently by promising the staff there to omit any mention of 
flying saucers, interplanetary travel, and the like. This move back 
into the church did not mean the shift of all meetings, however, 
but rather a kind of stratification of audiences. The old-timers 
66 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 
continued to meet, as the advanced Seekers, on Sunday afternoons 
at the Armstrongs' and to discuss doctrines and "lessons" without 
restriction. The discussions of the "elementary" Seekers in their 
public meetings at the church were confined exclusively to such 
innocuous topics as Christian mysticism and occasional excursions 
into comparative religion. At the two public meetings of this 
group which our observer attended in November, Dr. Armstrong 
never so much as mentioned Mrs. Keech, her lessons, or the flood 
and never alluded more than vaguely to the possibility of com- 
munication with outer space. Thus, once again we have evidence 
that Dr. Armstrong refrained from proselyting for the belief sys- 
tem to the world at large. 

Dr. Armstrong's retreat from indiscriminate publicity seeking 
in September to selective proselyting in October finds its rationale 
in a number of passages from Mrs. Keech's lessons of this period. 
In several places, the Guardians counsel an over-all attitude of 
passivity toward recruiting members and convincing nonbeliev- 
ers. Again and again the lessons as well as the discourse of the 
three principals state that "those who are ready will be sent," that 
there is no need to take action because the die has been cast: all 
the inhabitants of the earth will be treated according to the level 
of their present spiritual development. Those who are most ethe- 
real will be taken to planets of the highest density and there 
trained to be the future rulers of a cleansed earth; those who are 
of a lower density will be left behind to suffer discomfort and 
bodily death, but their spirits will eventually be taken to planets 
of a (spiritual) density appropriate to their own development. 
In short, while there will be differential treatment, everyone will 
get his just deserts. The possibility for elevating one's spiritual 
development in the short time remaining before the flood is slight, 
and those who could profit from intensive study of the lessons 
and discussion of their meaning will be alerted, will be sent, by 
some higher agency or through the stirrings and urgings of their 
own souls. Finally, the lessons contained the admonition to avoid 
panic; and what could cause more panic than indiscriminately 
raising the cry of imminent disaster? 

67 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Such a passive philosophy of recruiting at this time makes one 
wonder why the Armstrongs and Mrs. Keech ever decided to 
send out press releases or mimeograph lessons at all. Their own 
explanation revolves around the need for the cry of warning to 
be uttered at least so that those who were on the brink of eligi- 
bility for salvation could be roused to action, triggered off, so to 
speak, by the warning, but moved, in the last analysis, by their 
own inner resources and readiness. Thus, from the point of view 
of the leaders, their duty was done: they had shouted the alarm, 
and this was enough. Those who responded were to be taught, 
but those who remained aloof were lost and it would be wrong 
to force them into the movement to save themselves. To be sure, 
the rolls were not closed by mid-October; both the Armstrongs 
and Mrs. Keech were explicit on this point. "There will be those 
who are sent even up to the eleventh hour" was one of their 
favorite sayings, and they welcomed inquirers without seeking 
them. 

So far we have discussed proselyting, conviction, and commit- 
ment up through the month of October. This date is a convenient 
one for dividing our narrative, for it is approximately at this point 
that we begin to get firsthand reports from our observers. Up to 
early November, we have had to depend upon documents, upon 
the recall of events by the participants, and upon material sup- 
plied, at a later date, by persons who had some acquaintance with 
what had happened in the movement but who were not inten- 
tionally observing it. Beginning in early November we arranged 
to have observers join the movement and gather data while par- 
ticijMting. We shall reserve a detailed discussion of the role of 
our observers and their effect on the group for the Appendix. 
Since their reception well illustrates the policy of selective prose- 
lyting, we shall describe how our observers gained entree into 
the group. 

During the second week in November one of our male ob- 
servers, a student in sociology, attended an open meeting of the 
"elementary" Seekers at the Community Church. He found about 
ten students there, listening to Dr. Armstrong discuss a miscellany 
68 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

of spiritual, ethical, and religious topics. Representing himself 
simply as an interested member of the audience, our observer 
talked privately to Dr. Armstrong following the meeting, indicat- 
ing interest in questions of mysticism. While Dr. Armstrong re- 
sponded with interest, he still made no attempt to recruit our 
observer, mentioning neither the flood nor the lessons, nor even 
the Sunday afternoon group meetings. In further conversation 
about unusual experiences Dr. Armstrong casually remarked that 
he had a friend who was in contact with people on another planet; 
but he failed to amplify this remark, and did not mention Mrs. 
Keech's name. 

During the ensuing week, our observer made a couple of at- 
tempts to attract Dr. Armstrong's anention to himself, but failed 
to arouse any more interest than the loan of a book on flying 
saucers. The next meeting of the elementary Seekers was attended 
by our observer and only one other person. Under these circum- 
stances Dr. Armstrong chose not to hold a formal meeting and 
our observer seized this opportunity to tell the doctor of an 
alleged encounter he had had with the spirit world in Mexico. 
The anecdote revolved around a supposed meeting with a crone 
who appeared mysteriously, predicted dire events in the future, 
then disappeared. 

Shortly thereafter Dr. Armstrong adjourned the meeting and 
told our observer about the "advanced" Seekers, inviting him to 
come the next Sunday. The observer had finally won his invita- 
tion after a week of persistent effort, climaxed by the story of 
his mystical experience. Perhaps the embarrassingly small size of 
the audience that evening also played a part in eliciting Dr. Arm- 
strong's invitation. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that Dr. 
Armstrong was anything but eager to make a convert of the 
observer. 

Forewarned by the difliculties our male observer had had in 
being accepted, our female observer in Collegeville was fore- 
armed. She, too, was a student in sociology, but for the purposes 
of this research represented herself as an ex-student, currently 
doing part-time secretarial work. She by-passed the elementary 

69 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Seekers and went direcdy to call upon the Annstrongs. Mrs. 
Armstrong was at home alone when the observer called. She 
asked for Dr. Armstrong and said that she had, over a year before, 
consulted with him at the Health Service and had been impressed 
by one of his admonitions to her: "Get in tune with the universe." 
Now, she said, she was somewhat disturbed over a recent experi- 
ence she had had, and was coming to seek guidance from the 
doctor. 

Mrs. Armstrong's response to this plea was immediate and al- 
most frightening in its initial ambiguity: "You've been sent," she 
declared. "They sent you." Fortunately for our observer's poise, 
Mrs. Armstrong went on to explain that "they" referred to the 
Guardians or people of outer space who were watching over the 
chosen on earth and guiding their actions. She asked what was 
troubling our observer who, according to plan, then related a 
"dream" she said she had had the previous night. She had dreamed 
she was standing near the foot of a hill on which stood a man, 
surrounded by an aura of light; there were torrents of water 
raging all about, and the man reached down and pulled her up 
to safety. 

This "dream," completely fictitious, proved the open sesame 
for our female observer. Mrs. Armstrong welcomed her into the 
house and there began showering her with information about 
flying saucers, the universal cycles of Light and Darkness, and 
similar matters. Within ten minutes of their meeting, Mrs. Arm- 
strong had mentioned the prophecy of the flood that would de- 
stroy the earth, although she did not immediately reveal the 
exact date, because, she said, she did not want to frighten her 
visitor. Mrs. Armstrong continued to discuss the belief system 
and to press reading matter upon our observer until Dr. Arm- 
strong's return to the house. He too was fascinated by the ob- 
server's "dream" and concurred with his wife's enthusiastic con- 
clusion that the visitor had been "sent" by higher powers. He 
questioned her closely about previous psychic experiences (none, 
she said) and about her interpretation of the dream (a mystery 
70 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

to her, she stated), and concluded at last that she had come, like 
Nebuchadnezzar, to have her dream interpreted. 

During the remainder of our observer's visit, the Armstrongs 
elaborated their beliefs and told her in great detail of the coming 
catastrophe, automatic writing, communication from other plan- 
ets, reincarnation, and flying saucers. The visitor was immediately 
welcomed into the fold, so to speak, and no information was 
withheld from her. The Armstrongs nodded meaningfully as they 
informed her that she "had much to learn," predicted that she 
would return often, and invited her to come back as soon and 
as often as she pleased, but especially to return for the meeting 
of the Sunday afternoon group. 

This pair of incidents well documents the attitude the Arm- 
strongs seemed to take toward proselyting, and also illustrates the 
degree of their conviction about the validity of their beliefs. They 
did believe that "those who are ready will be sent" and welcomed 
them with open arms. They believed that one ought not to force, 
push, or harry people into belief. And they believed that "strange 
things are happening all around us"; and that these strange things 
were simply confirmation of their fundamental orientation toward 
the occult world. 

The meeting of the Seekers at the Armstrong home the follow- 
ing Sunday shed some light on the extent and nature of the move- 
ment, but was, on the whole, an unexciting affair. Some fifteen 
people, almost all students, assembled in the living room of a per- 
fectly ordinary home. The atmosphere was calm and serious, as 
it might be among any group of young people of religious bent, 
forgathering on a Sunday afternoon. 

The meeting opened with a brief meditation period during 
which all present sat quietly with their eyes closed. Dr. Arm- 
strong spoke briefly about adjusting "our vibrations" and "get- 
ting in tune with each other," the better to listen to an inner 
voice. Following the silence, the doctor prayed aloud to our 
Father for guidance — an ordinary, nonsectarian sort of Christian 
prayer. In an equally unexcited way he then proceeded to read 

7« 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

aloud the latest lesson from Mrs. Keech — a lesson consisting pri- 
marily of messages of reassurance and comfort from Sananda. 

He interrupted his reading from time to time to explain the 
meaning of an unfamiliar term or neologism, and sometimes 
strayed farther into an exposition of some phase of mysticism, 
geophysics, interplanetary travel, transmigration of spirits, bibli- 
cal allusions, or cosmosgenesis that he thought might enlighten 
his audience. An occasional question, usually a request for clari- 
fication, spurred his explorations of these byways. In the main, 
his discourse consisted in the affirmation of the belief system we 
have already outlined, and its elaboration and refinement. His 
audience for the most part sat in placid silence, apparently ab- 
sorbing what he said. Toward the end of his talk, a letter was 
passed around for everyone to sign; it was addressed to President 
Eisenhower, asking him to make public the "secret information" 
the air force had accumulated on flying saucers. 

About two hours after the formal meeting had started, it broke 
up, for refreshments, into small groups of two or three. Some 
discussed spiritual transmigration, others college football. Some 
of the girls served the tea and cake — a handsome monument cov- 
ered with pink and blue frosting in the design of a "mother ship" 
and three small flying saucers, bearing the words "Up in the Air." 
One or two of the members seemed to be of an experimental 
turn of mind, for they had brought a ouija board which they 
attempted to use. Dr. Armstrong warned them that it wouldn't 
work because the "charges" around the house were "positive" 
whereas the ouija board was "negatively charged," in addition to 
being of "low vibration," again unlike the atmosphere of the 
house. Later, a few of the young people attempted levitation of 
one another, though this venture also failed. 

After perhaps an hour of this easy informality, some of the 
guests departed. Apparently the ones who remained behind were 
the more seriously interested, for the group again became focused 
on Dr. Armstrong, and some serious topics were brought up. One 
student raised the important problem of proselyting; how much 
and under what circumstances should one attempt to proselyte 

72 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

for the beliefs of the group? He mentioned that he had talked 
about the coming catastrophe to certain of his college acquaint- 
ances and had apparently encountered some scorn and disbelief. 
Dr. Armstrong's reply was characteristic: You can't explain the 
prophecy or the coming catastrophe to anyone who isn't ready, 
and those who are ready will be sent to this house. The Guardians 
will see to that. This house is guarded and no one can come into 
it who isn't supposed to be here. Those who are destined to sur- 
vive the flood will come to the house. But you mustn't turn your 
back on those who don't come. If they make some overture to 
you, if they show some interest, you mustn't reject them. You 
should tell them, calmly and without creating panic, what lies 
ahead. Then it will be up to them, individually, to decide what 
to do. 

It is interesting to note, parenthetically, that earlier in the after- 
noon Dr. Armstrong had been telephoned by a young woman 
who declined to give her name, but said she was a student and 
had heard that he knew all about a prediction that there would 
be a disaster on December 2 1 . She had also heard of the meetings 
and asked if she might attend. Dr. Armstrong confirmed the date 
of the prediction but refused her permission to come to the meet- 
ings; she might, however, come see him during office hours if 
she wanted to. Later that afternoon he remarked that the un- 
known lady who telephoned was probably a "stooge" of the 
college administration being planted to "spy on" the group. We 
shall observe further indications of this attitude later on, but it 
is important to note here that, by mid-November, Dr. Armstrong 
was suspicious and concerned over the attitude the college authori- 
ties might be taking toward his teaching of the occult and un- 
earthly. 

Some of the other topics that came up for discussion during the 
latter part of the Sunday afternoon meeting, when only the more 
convinced and involved members remained, shed light on the 
range and diversity of elements in the beliefs the group shared. 
For example, not only was the doctrine of reincarnation taken 
for granted, but there was considerable discussion of the identities 

73 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

that those present had had in previous incarnations. Some of the 
fortunate, notably the two adult Armstrongs, their college-age 
daughter, Cleo, and Bob Eastman, a convinced student-member, 
had been told through Mrs. Keech's automatic writing what iden- 
tities they had had when Jesus of Nazareth was on earth. Dr. 
Armstrong did not take a large part in the discussion of reincar- 
nation, but he let it be known that "someone in the room" had 
been positively identified as Joseph, and later let slip the "fact" 
that Marian Keech had been Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

There was also some discussion of the deleterious effects on 
one's spiritual state of eating meat and smoking. Smoking, it ap- 
peared, not only fouled the atmosphere but indicated a yielding 
to the cravings of one's animal nature. Although smoking did not 
mean damnation, it lessened one's chances for spiritual achieve- 
ment. Eating the flesh of animals also dampened spiritual develop- 
ment, since it meant incorporating more of the very elements 
that one was trying to rise above. Furthermore, the Guardians 
took a dim view of meat eaters; since the spirits of animals 
slaughtered for meat were consigned to the astral, the carnivores 
of tiie world had been responsible for the huge black cloud of 
dense animal vibrations that disfigured space, especially over such 
cities as Chicago. 

Finally, there was considerable discussion of Mrs. Keech's les- 
sons themselves, of how "sacred writings" could be distinguished 
from mere automatic writing stemming from the subconscious, 
and of the evidence that tended to give weight to belief in the 
prophecy. Perhaps most important of all was Dr. Armstrong's 
exposition of the nature and progress of the flood. The 21st of 
December, he declared, would see great physical changes in the 
earth's surface; a flood would engulf Lake Qty that day and 
gradually spread across the country. He did not believe, however, 
that the inundation of the globe would be immediate; it might 
take up to a year for the task to be completed. But, by Christmas 
of the following year, he was sure, all the earth's surface would 
be water and the souls of the dead would have been raised. Those 
who were now ready, and qualified, would have been taken off to 

74 



SPREADnSTG THE WORD ON EARTH 

Qarion or other high-density spiritual planets and would be in 
training for their new task of ruling the cleansed earth. But, he 
allowed, he could be wrong about the details. The only thing he 
knew positively was that the flood would occur on the 21st. Per- 
sonally, he was ready to go any time; he was on twenty-four- 
hour alert. He didn't know what would happen, or when, but it 
was best to be ready. 

We have described the Seekers' meeting of November 21 in 
some detail for several reasons. First, it should give the reader some 
sense of the atmosphere that prevailed: a blend of the ordinary 
and the esoteric, and a curious absence of a sense of excitement 
and urgency. Furthermore, it gives us a convenient opportunity 
to introduce some of the principal figures in CoUegeville and de- 
scribe their attachment to the group. In so doing, we shall not 
confine ourselves to the time period we have already discussed, 
but shall borrow against future data where it is necessary to 
clarify the degree of conviction, commitment, and proselyting. 

The evidence we shall use was all gathered by our observers 
between the middle of November and December 20, the day 
before the flood was predicted to occur. Between these dates, our 
observers encountered a total of thirty-three persons who either 
attended meetings of the Seekers or visited the Armstrong home 
on some errand relevant to the movement. Of these, eight were 
heavily committed individuals — that is, they had taken some 
action consistent with the belief that the predicted flood would 
actually occur on December 21. These actions ranged from simply 
making public declaration of their belief to quitting their jobs or 
otherwise freeing themselves from obligations to the post-2 ist 
future, and were "committing" actions in the sense that they were 
difiicult or impossible to undo. The extent of conviction varied 
somewhat among these eight people, and we shall discuss each one's 
strength of belief in turn. Finally, they had engaged in proselyt- 
ing, again, in varying degrees. 

There were seven other individuals who, though equally active 
in the group, were less heavily committed to belief in the flood, 
and were correspondingly more doubtful about the prediction as 

75 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

well as less active in proselyting for it. We shall discuss them 
too. 

Lastly, there were eighteen persons who can hardly be called 
members. Many of them attended only one meeting and others 
were clearly sightseers or curiosity seekers. The extent of belief, 
among this group, varied from almost complete skepticism about 
every aspect of the ideology to belief in some parts of it — such 
as flying saucer phenomena, the existence of a spirit world, or 
the actuality of reincarnation— but with a strong doubt about the 
flood prediction. We shall not discuss any of these uncommitted 
individuals. 

Of the two adult Armstrongs, we have undoubtedly said enough 
to persuade the reader that they were heavily committed, highly 
convinced individuals who engaged in proselyting to a consider- 
able extent. Their daughter Cleo presents a more complex picture. 
She skipped occasional meetings of the Seekers and once passed 
up an opportunity to attend a rather crucial discussion in mid- 
December in order to go Christmas caroling with her friends. 
Yet, on another occasion, she traveled a considerable distance, 
under diflSculty, to be present at a meeting that her parents had 
urged her to attend. She sometimes expressed dislike for other 
members of the group because they "got on her nerves" by 
always talking of the coming disaster, and said she liked one 
unconvinced person because he "had some plans for the future." 
Yet, in early December, she told one of our observers that she 
had bought a great many new clothes because she wanted to 
enjoy wearing pretty things while she could, before the flood 
came. A little later, while our observer was visiting the Arm- 
strongs, Cleo told her to "use anything in the house you want; 
use it up. It won't be much good to us anyway in a little while." 

Qeo's situation is perhaps best described in a remark she once 
made that, while most of die members of the Seekers had little to 
lose if the flood did not come as predicted, she would "lose every- 
thing." "I'll have to quit college and go to work," she said, refer- 
ring to the fact that her father would probably be disgraced 
professionally and unable to support her education further. One 
76 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 
may regard her attachment to the movement as based primarily on 
loyalty to her parents, or as resulting from involuntary commit- 
ment. The ground moved under her feet, so to speak, and willy- 
nilly she was precipitated into a position where she had to believe. 
Her fate was intimately tied to that of her father, and thus we 
classify her as a heavily committed member. 

Cleo's conviction wavered considerably, however. More in- 
tensely exposed to the ideology as it developed than any of the 
other students in the group, she frequently demonstrated her 
familiarity with it in discussion, yet she took a very casual attitude 
toward studying the mimeographed copies of Mrs. Keech's les- 
sons. She had been told that her biblical identity was that of 
Martha, the sister of Lazarus, yet she almost never mentioned this. 
She frequently disputed with her father over the meaningfulness of 
some of Mrs. Keech's messages and, at one point, almost seemed 
convinced that the December 2 1 prediction was false. Yet she ral- 
lied from this low point and, in mid-December, doggedly asserted 
that the flood would come, though more gradually than Mrs. 
Keech had first predicted, and flatly refused to accept the state- 
ment of a medium in Steel City that the date was wrong. We 
have been unable to learn of any proselyting on Cleo's part among 
her college acquaintances. Often placed under their scrutinizing 
inquiry, she seems to have refused either to deny her belief in 
the prediction or to argue for its validity. During November and 
early December she was among the least convinced of the heavily 
committed group. 

Quite different was the position of Bob Eastman, an under- 
graduate majoring in educational administration. Older than most 
students, he had seen three years of army duty which had, by 
his own estimate, made a pretty rough fellow of him. He smoked, 
drank, swore, and was cynical about religion and Christian ethics. 
After his discharge, he joined the Steel City Flying Saucer Club, 
and, at their recommendation, made himself known to Dr. Arm- 
strong when he began to attend the Eastern Teachers College. 
They quickly developed a strong relationship, something like 
master and disciple. 

77 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Eastman attended every meeting of the Seekers and spent a great 
deal of time at the Armstrong home. He gave up smoking, drink- 
ing, swearing, and "other rough habits" and soon developed into 
one of the most apt and serious students of the movement. Not 
only did he read the lessons avidly and ask many questions about 
them, but he pursued the study of esoteric and mystical literature 
on his own, though with the doctor's guidance. When the Arm- 
strongs began mimeographing the lessons, Eastman helped with 
typing, running oflF, and assembling them and even assisted Mrs. 
Armstrong with some of her "editorial work" on Mrs. Keech's 
manuscript. 

He had learned "who he was in the Bible" and had given con- 
siderable thought to the problem of finding his soulmate. He was 
thoroughly conversant with the prediction of the flood, could 
cite it from memory, and believed it completely. Furthermore, 
he had reordered his life in expectation of it. Not only had he 
forsworn earthly pleasures in order to raise the density of his 
vibrations, but he was, as he said on several occasions, "giving 
up all earthly ties," and asserted often in December that he was 
"ready to go any time." He continued to attend his classes, but 
did so merely, he said, in order to preserve an outward appearance 
of normality and thus not arouse the panic in his college mates 
that might ensue if he were to quit completely. He had given up 
studying for courses and was devoting all his spare time to "the 
lessons," although he fully expected to fail in one or more courses. 

He sold some property he valued a great deal in order to get 
money to pay off debts. He spent his Thanksgiving vacation in 
Steel Qty "winding up his affairs" and "saying goodbye" to his 
parents and friends. He did not sell his car, since he thought it 
might be useful transportation for him and other believers during 
the last days, but he drove it hard, demanding utmost perform- 
ance from it, and once remarked, "I don't baby it any more. I've 
got to use it up; there isn't much time left." He talked freely with 
other students about his beliefs, answered their questions, and re- 
sisted their scorn. Bob Eastman tried at length to convince his 
parents of the coming flood and felt that he had succeeded in per- 

78 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 
suading his stepmother, an elementary school teacher, but that 
his father, a state civil service employee, was still unconvinced. 
Perhaps his most important act of proselyting, however, was to 
draw into the group Kitty O'Donnell, a girl he was friendly with. 

Kitty O'Donnell attended her first Seekers meeting in mid- 
October, at Bob Eastman's urging. She came along for the ride, 
and, initially, considered the people she met at the Armstrongs 
as "a bunch of crackpots." A fairly worldly, though not sophisti- 
cated, young woman, she had been married twice, had a small 
child and an absent husband when Bob met her in a bar. One of 
the few nonstudent members of the Seekers, she had a job on the 
production line of a nearby factory. Though her first visit to the 
group was motivated by interest in Bob and a desire to please 
him, it was not long before Kitty became one of the most con- 
vinced and committed members of the Seekers. 

In late October she had a dream that she reported as follows: 
She spied a flying saucer at rest on a hilltop, and saw someone in 
it beckoning to her; with some trepidation she climbed up and 
into the saucer, where she found a friendly group of people seated 
around a circular table, and she felt an immediate sense of tran- 
quillity and comfort. When she reported this dream to Bob and 
Dr. Armstrong, they assured her it meant that she had been 
chosen, she was "ready" to be "taken up" to Clarion with the 
others. She was enormously pleased and, forgetting her earlier 
conception of the group, plunged herself into their activities. 

Fully convinced that the flood would come on the 21st, she 
quit her job at the plant and decided to devote all her time to the 
movement, while living on her savings — some six hundred dol- 
lars. To that end she left her parents' home, where she had been 
living, and with her three-year-old son moved into a compara- 
tively costly apartment in CoUegeville, nearer to the seat of the 
movement and, at the same time, nearer to Bob whom she be- 
lieved to be her soulmate. She developed a philosophy of "living 
from day to day," and gradually came to believe that she too 
might be picked up any time by a flying saucer and spared the 
flood. 



79 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Kitty's chief concern was her small son, since she had no way 
of knowing whether he too was among the "ready," but she 
hoped he was. Fortified by this hope she came almost to expect 
to find him missing one day, feeling sure that this would mean he 
had been picked up by a saucer and was already on his way to a 
Better Place. In order not to deprive him of pleasures, she gave 
him his Christmas presents three weeks early. 

Kitty attended every meeting of the Seekers, often baking the 
elaborately decorated cakes that were served at them. She gave 
up drinking, tried hard not to smoke (and succeeded in refrain- 
ing during meetings, and while she was in the Armstrong house) , 
and adopted a vegetarian diet. She often did the telephoning to 
announce special meetings of the Seekers. She professed her new 
beliefs openly, even though her parents considered her demented 
and her former pals at the plant scoffed at her beliefs and her 
newly acquired "virtues." Once or twice during November she 
discussed the belief system with a few of her acquaintances. 

Kitty was well accepted in the group and she had great confi- 
dence in Dr. Armstrong. On one occasion, for example, she was 
quite concerned over an impending visit from her former hus- 
band, the father of her child, for he had always been harsh and 
rough on the child. She telephoned Dr. Armstrong, who prom- 
ised to "beam her in" over the phone — i.e., to place her in tune 
with the Guardians who would protect her from violence. She 
later reported that her former husband had never been more 
gentle and loving toward the boy, and she concluded that he had 
been "sent," unknowingly, to say goodbye to his son. Like Cleo, 
Kitty recognized the degree to which she had committed herself 
to belief in the prediction. On December 4 she remarked to one 
of our observers who had questioned her about the strength of 
her conviction: "I have to believe the flood is coming on the 21st 
because I've spent nearly all my money. I quit my job, I quit 
comptometer school, and my apartment costs me $100 a month. 
I have to beUeve." 

Kitty's depth of commitment was rarely equaled, never sur- 
passed by the student members, largely because they had less op- 
80 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 
portunity for commitment. Most of them were still under the 
parental wing, and had no particular financial responsibilities. 
Their chief commitments to the belief system are to be found in 
the amount of time they devoted to it rather than to studying, 
and in the degree to which they defended their beliefs against 
parental opposition. 

Fred Purden and Laura Brooks typify high commitment among 
the students. Since they were virtually engaged to be married 
and were together so much they can be treated as a pair. Both 
of them were juniors, he majoring in music and she in education, 
and they both came from small cities about fifty miles from the 
college. Both very active in the students' groups at the Commu- 
nity Church, they had become acquainted with, and been im- 
pressed by. Dr. Armstrong in the spring of the previous year. 
They had attended the Seekers' meetings in the church and 
moved with the advanced group to the Armstrong house. They 
attended nearly every meeting during the fall of the current year 
and took an active part in all the discussions. Apparently fully 
convinced the flood would overtake the world on the 21st, they 
both quit studying, and Fred found himself likely to fail one of 
his most important courses. Furthermore, he had argued violently 
with his parents and they had threatened to throw him out. Near 
the middle of December Laura threw away many of her personal 
possessions expecting to need them no longer. 

Fred had been told his biblical identity (he was Paul), and he 
and Laura were fairly sure they were soulmates. We are not 
aware of any particular proselyting activities on their part, but 
they both had attempted to convince their parents the flood was 
coming and were resisting considerable pressure to persuade them 
to change their minds. 

Susan Heath, a student majoring in physical education, had 
been a member of the Seekers the previous spring. During the fall 
she attended almost all of the Seekers' meetings, and she fre- 
quently discussed her beliefs with a number of her acquaintances. 
The degree of her conviction and commitment is documented 
by several facts. Because of the opposition to Dr. Armstrong's 

81 



WHEN PROPHECY FAU.S 

teachings at the Community Church, Susan gave up her student 
religious activities there — activities that she had valued. She re- 
mained steadfast in her conviction even though one of the mem- 
bers of the Community Church staff tried to dissuade her by 
pointing out reasons for doubting the flood prediction. Susan also 
found herself in acute disagreement with her roommate, a girl 
vi^ith whom she had felt compatible until Susan began to talk 
about the flood, but whose friendship she sacrificed rather than 
change her beliefs. 

Susan was among the most active propagandists for the belief 
system. She began, in November, to give systematic instruction 
to three or four students in her dormitory and she had talked 
freely and persuasively to several more. In mid-December after 
there had been a formal ban on proselyting, she gave a full and 
enthusiastic account of the belief system to a fellow student who 
came to her asking for enlightenment. Her parents, informed of 
her convictions, seemed to take a passive attitude toward them, 
neither accepting nor rejecting what she had to say. 

These eight people — Thomas, Daisy, and Cleo Armstrong, Bob 
Eastman, Kitty O'Donnell, Fred Purden, Laura Brooks, and Susan 
Heath — had all engaged in activities that committed them to the 
movement and were, to various degrees, irreversible. All of them 
had demonstrated their conviction that the predicted flood would 
actually occur on December 21, and most of them had proselyted 
for that prediction. To be sure, the extent of their commitment 
varied, with the three Armstrongs having taken the most irrevo- 
cable steps, while Susan Heath had perhaps given up least. 

Less committed than any of those we have so far described was 
George Scherr, a student majoring in social science. Besides at- 
tending almost all the meetings of the Seekers, he paid many addi- 
tional visits to the Armstrong house, especially to study material 
about the flood prediction. He appears to have told his fellows 
in the cooperative house where he lived that there would be a 
flood on December 21, and to have resisted their scorn and their 
attempts to persuade him to retract his belief. He himself ex- 
pressed his feeling of commitment to the prediction when he 
82 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

remarked that, if the flood did not occur, he wouldn't be able to 
return to the house and face his friends next term. 

By mid-December he had begun to feel the pressure of parental 
disapproval of his association with the movement. George was 
one of the few students whose parents lived in CoUegeville, and 
they were especially sensitive to public opinion about the move- 
ment. They pointed out that, if his name appeared in the news- 
papers as a believing member of the group, this fact might go 
against him when it came to getting a good job after college. This 
consideration seems to have increased his anxiety, but did not 
make him retract what he had told his housemates. During the 
Christmas vacation, when he moved in with his parents, he felt 
it necessary to conceal his true errand from them whenever he 
visited the Armstrong house to listen to forecasts about the flood, 
and learn about orders and activities. 

From time to time, George indicated a considerable degree of 
doubt about the flood prediction, usually when talking to our 
observers and other members of the Seekers. He was sure, he once 
said, that disaster lay ahead at some time and in some form, but 
he wasn't positive about the flood on the 21st; maybe it would 
occur, maybe it wouldn't. On another occasion, when he was 
asked what he was going to do about the flood, he replied that, 
well, there wasn't much anyone could do but sit and wait; he 
wouldn't be heartbroken if nothing happened on the 21st, but he 
definitely expected something to happen. Waiting was an ex- 
tremely trying exercise for him. During the last few days before 
the 2 ist, George was almost constantly in attendance at the Arm- 
strongs' and our observers noticed that he seemed to be under 
great strain. 

Rather difficult to classify is Hal Fischer, a senior student of 
social science. He had had considerable experience with occult 
matters. Earlier, while a student at another college, Hal had acted 
as amanuensis to a fellow student who claimed to be receiving 
messages from the spirit world and who had predicted a cata- 
clysmic disaster to occur in the late summer of die previous year. 
His intimate connection with this incorrect prediction had made 

83 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Hal cautious. However, he was one of the most faithful in attend- 
ing meetings of the Seekers and was a frequent caller at the Arm- 
strongs' at other times. One of the most vocal discussants of the 
ideology, he was also one of the most challenging and doubting. 
He claimed to be devoting more time to studying Mrs. Keech's 
lessons than to his college work, and said he was letting his studies 
slide, not caring what grades he received. 

Within the group of Seekers, Hal was not regarded as a firm 
believer, even though he was one of the more prominent members 
in the eyes of outsiders to whom he was the most active exponent 
of the ideology. To a much greater extent than the other Seekers, 
Hal adopted the stance of an expert during discussions, raising 
questions of logicality and consistency of evidence, and introduc- 
ing comparative materials from "independent sources." In public 
discussion he did not make his doubts exphcit, but only raised 
challenging questions. Privately, he sometimes took a skeptical 
position, sometimes a neutral one. "I don't believe and I don't dis- 
believe," he once told an observer, "but I am ready to serve if 
necessary." Among his fellow students, Hal had a reputation for 
"trying to be different," and they felt that he pretended disbelief 
while actually believing. 

For a few days after he had heard what he called "independent 
confirmation" of the flood prediction through a medium from 
Steel City, Hal appeared to be more convinced that the flood 
would come; but, later, he began to express doubts again, doubts 
that revolved around the relative inexperience of Mrs. Keech who 
had, he pointed out, been receiving messages for less than a year. 
There is no doubt that Hal was publicly committed to a thorough 
belief in mysticism and communication with other worlds and 
that he had often argued publicly for the predicted cataclysm. 
He also seemed to be risking his scholastic standing by devoting 
so much time and energy to the affairs of the Seekers. But in con- 
viction, Hal was a classic fence-sitter. The master, rather than the 
victim of the ideology, Hal played to the hilt his role of the 
cautious, objective, and neutral expert, reserving judgment until 
the data were in. 

84 



SPREADING THE WORD ON EARTH 

There were five other people who played as prominent a role 
in the activities of the group as those we have already described. 
We shall not detail the evidence for their involvement, however, 
because, for reasons that will become clear to the reader, they 
drop out of our sight after December 21. We shall simply men- 
tion them briefly here to round out the picture of the active 
Seekers. Two of them, one a close friend and housemate of 
George Scherr, the other a girl friend of Susan Heath, were both 
about as convinced and committed as their respective friends 
whom we have described above. Two more were atypical: one 
was a middle-aged woman for whom the Seekers was just one 
more in a long series of involvements in mystical activities; the 
other was a student prominent in campus religious affairs who, 
although an out-and-out skeptic, continued to attend meetings. 
Finally, we must mention the Armstrongs' teen-age son who, like 
his older sister, had been involuntarily committed to the move- 
ment by his parents' actions. He was more skeptical than his sister, 
less interested, and yet no less committed, for he was often a 
target for the ridicule of his high school classmates. 

The remaining eighteen people whom our observers saw at one 
time or another at meetings in the Armstrongs' home can be 
dismissed without ado. Most of them put in only one appearance, 
usually at the invitation of one of the core members or one of 
the fence-sitters. They stayed to hear the show, but did not re- 
turn. Perhaps they came for the refreshments, perhaps for the 
"fellowship" that was to be found there. 

We were unquestionably fortunate to have observed the Seek- 
ers' meeting of November 21 for, as it turned out, this was the 
last one conducted under relatively normal circumstances. Begin- 
ning on Monday, the 22nd, a complex series of events began to 
alter the situation both in CoUegeville and in Lake City, with con- 
sequent effects upon the movement. 

The first important event was that Dr. Armstrong was asked 
to resign from his position on the college Health Service staff. 
The reason given him was candid: there had been complaints 
from parents and students that he was using his position to teach 

85 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

unorthodox religious beliefs and was "upsetting" some students. 
The action was taken quietly and discreetly, being known imme- 
diately only to a few members of the college administrative staff 
and to Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong. They did not reveal the dismissal 
to any members of the Seekers until nearly a week later, as far 
as we can learn. Dr. Armstrong's immediate response to his dis- 
missal is unknown, but from his later actions and words we can 
be fairly confident in inferring that he considered it a "part of the 
plan" of the Guardians — an indication that he was being shaken 
loose from the ties of this world in order to make him more 
ready to leave it for a better one. 

A second inference, less sure, is that he telephoned Marian Keech 
in Lake City on the day he was dismissed soon after he had met 
with the college staff. If so, she too must have seen the same sig- 
nificance in his dismissal, for we know that later that same day 
she received a message from Sananda ordering her to call a meet- 
ing at her home on Tuesday night, the 23rd. Toward midnight on 
the 22nd she telephoned Dr. Armstrong and instructed him to 
come to the meeting. Fortunately, our observers in Collegeville 
learned of his projected departure, and his destination, and prompt- 
ly informed us. We, in turn, telephoned Mrs. Keech and arranged 
to be invited to that meeting — the first of its kind in Lake City 
and, for several reasons, an important event. Let us shift our atten- 
tion, then, to the Lake Gty scene and summarize the events back 
in late October and November. 



86 



CHAPTER IV 



The Long Wait for Orders 



In late October, Marian Keech had invited some eight or ten 
people in the Lake City area to meet at her home on Halloween 
for a reading from the lessons. Two people appeared — Edna Post 
and her son, Mark. Mrs. Post was a tall, gaunt woman in her late 
forties whose features usually wore either an expression of appre- 
hension and sadness or a sweet, eager smile. Divorced, she and 
her nineteen-year-old son maintained a home in Highvale, a sub- 
urb of Lake Qty, where she was the director of a private day 
nursery school. Mark had attended an institute of technology 
until the previous spring when he was asked to withdraw because 
of academic deficiency. Since September he had been employed 
as a clerk in a hardware store near his home, but was still de- 
pendent in part on his mother's earnings and her alimony. A tall, 
gangling youth, Mark was ordinarily quiet, friendly, and a trifle 
shy; good-humored and obliging, he seemed to lack definite aims 
and was content to drift along, following where his mother led. 
She led him, this time, directly into the center of the movement, 
where he ultimately came to take a useful though not prominent 
role. 

Edna Post had a history of participation in quasi-mystical 
groups with an intellectual orientation. Like Marian Keech, Edna 
had been "cleared" by a dianetics auditor, and had gone on to 
a more advanced group that discussed Scientology. It was at a 
meeting of this group diat Edna met Marian Keech. Apparently 
impressed by Mrs. Keech's powers, Edna remained in touch with 
her during the spring and summer, long enough at least to accom- 
pany Marian on the Lyons field expedition. Mark and his current 
girl friend also went along, but neither of the Posts had seen 

87 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Marian again until they received her Halloween invitation. What 
led them back into her arms we do not know, nor are we sure 
what happened on that evening to cause Edna to visit Bertha 
Blatsky, another member of the Scientology group, who had 
heard some of Mrs. Keech's lessons the previous spring, and per- 
suade her to go with the Posts to Mrs. Keech's house several 
weeks later— on November 22, to be precise. 

Our knowledge of Mrs. Keech's activities is extremely scanty 
for the period between our first call on her in October and the 
meeting of November 23. Her chief callers for a short time were 
the children who attended the grade school opposite her home. 
Somehow they had become acquainted with her beliefs and used 
to call on her and ask her to tell them about flying saucers. Ap- 
parently she had responded well to these requests and had de- 
veloped a sizable following in the school when parents, school 
authorities, and the police teamed up to intervene. A special PTA 
meeting was held to discuss means of restraining her influence on 
the children and she was finally warned, she claimed, to stop her 
talks to the children or she would be taken before "a psychiatric 
examining board." This threat, apparently from the police, proved 
effective for it terrified her. Her chief regret was that the chil- 
dren had genuinely needed and wanted the truth and the light, 
and had recognized the value of her teaching. But their parents 
and teachers insisted that the children stay away from her. 

We know that during October and November Marian was 
constantly receiving messages from Sananda and other Guardians 
in the higher spiritual densities. Sometimes the messages gave 
interpretations of recent events such as the visit of the spacemen; 
sometimes they offered reassurance and comfort in the face of a 
disbelieving world. 

During this period too, Mrs. Keech began increasingly to "sit 
for" individual lessons — i.e., at the request of a particular person 
she would make a special request to the Guardians for personal 
advice, instruction, or answers to questions. The result often left 
the inquirer puzzled and sometimes Mrs. Keech too. Often she 
would frankly ask the inquirer, "What does it mean to you?" 
88 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

before she made any suggestions at all; and occasionally she would 
admit that she was completely baffled by what her hand had 
written. 

This drift toward personal instruction coincided with the 
movement toward highly selective proselyting we have already 
noted in Collegeville. For Mrs. Keech, whose ui^e to spread the 
word had never been as strong as Dr. Armstrong's, the word 
"proselyting" is an exaggeration, for her treatment of those who 
came was remarkably passive. This is illustrated by her reception 
of our two Lake City observers. When the male observer called, 
he told her he had learned of the flood prediction through the 
newspapers. She received him warmly and spent considerable time 
explaining the background of the messages to him, but made abso- 
lutely no attempt to recruit him or to urge him to return. As he 
was leaving, he was forced to ask if he might return, to which 
she replied politely, "My door is always open." 

Our female observer was also welcomed and given an hour or 
two of general talk about flying saucers, Sananda, the Guardians, 
and other items of the belief system. This observer's introductory 
story did not include any mention of the predicted flood and 
Mrs. Keech did not herself refer to it. She did, however, ask if 
the observer would like her to "sit for" a personal message from 
"upstairs." 

Later when the observer asked whether there were ever any 
group meetings of interested persons, Mrs. Keech replied in the 
negative; the rule, she said, was against meeting in groups. Lessons 
were to be given on an individual basis, and people came singly 
to see her and to have their lessons. She had received orders from 
the Guardians in September or October that she was to stay at 
home from now on in order to teach those who came to see her— 
that those who were ready would seek her out. She mentioned 
that one or two people had been coming to see her but was re- 
luctant to discuss how frequentiy they came, how many there 
were, or who they were. Nor did she seem interested in obtaining 
new recruits, for this observer too was forced to ask for permis- 
sion to return. 

89 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Against this background, it was all the more surprising to learn 
that a meeting had been scheduled for November 23, only a few 
days after our observers' first call. The reason for Mrs. Keech's 
calling the meeting was probably that news of Dr. Armstrong's 
dismissal had suggested to her that the time was near when the 
Guardians were going to take some action. That was the keynote 
of the evening and the first speech Mrs. Keech made to the as- 
sembled group was "We have been told by Sananda that there 
will be a message for us and we expect to get our orders." As we 
shall see, the remainder of the meeting was devoted principally to 
waiting for these orders. 

By 7:30 that evening ten people, several of them new faces to 
us, were seated in a rough circle around the living room and ad- 
joining sun porch of the Keech home. Edna and Mark Post had 
driven in from their suburban home. Bertha Blatsky, a tall, robust, 
powerful-looking woman in her early forties, had brought two of 
her neighbors from the northwest side of Lake City, May and 
Frank Novick. Mrs. Blatsky and the Posts were evidently well 
acquainted through their earlier membership in the Scientology 
group, and Edna Post had at least met May Novick. The relation- 
ship between Bertha and May was even closer, for Bertha had 
"audited" May, a pale, slim girl, with a timid and anxious manner. 
Frank Novick seemed curiously out of place and uneasy. He was 
an electronics engineer who came only because of his wife's urg- 
ing. Less insensitive to social pressure than defiant of it, he was 
the only person who continued to smoke during the evening, and 
he rarely said a word. The rest of the gathering included Marian 
Keech's patient but skeptical husband; Dr. Armstrong; the girl 
who acted as a local observer in Lake City; one of the authors; 
and, finally, Clyde Wilton, who had flown the five hundred miles 
from his home especially for the meeting. 

Clyde Wilton was a tall, well-built man in his late thirties with 
a Ph.D. in one of the rigorous natural sciences. He was quiet, 
good-humored, intellectually very curious. He held a research 
position in an important laboratory, had published in scientific 
journals and was a well-placed and respected member of his pro- 
90 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
fession. He had made the long trip at his own expense and evi- 
dently in response to a telephone invitation from Mrs. Keech. He 
had been introduced to Mrs. Keech in September while he was 
visiting Lake City. He had evidently been deeply impressed by 
Mrs. Keech's messages, and had kept up correspondence with her 
during October and November, after his return home. 

It is clear that her writings were not his first adventure in the 
occult, for he referred occasionally to "other masters," and drew 
parallels between them and Marian's Guardians. He had had a 
long-standing interest in flying saucers, and had made a careful 
study of the available literature on the subject without having his 
curiosity satisfied. Diuring the meeting of the 23rd and on sub- 
sequent occasions, Clyde Wilton did rather little talking, but 
appeared to listen very attentively to what went on. He demon- 
strated his familiarity with the lessons by quoting from them and 
referring to specific passages, and frequently engaged in discus- 
sions with Marian or Dr. Armstrong regarding the meaning of 
terms or the interpretation of passages. 

His whole approach was intellectual, studious, even scholarly. 
Yet he appeared to believe completely in the legitimacy of the 
messages and in the prediction of the flood. He had talked at 
length of these matters with his wife, who, he confided, was still 
somewhat unconvinced. He had discussed Mrs. Keech's lessons 
with one of his neighbors who may have believed in the flood 
prediction too. In all, then, Clyde Wilton seems to have been a 
convinced member of the group who at least had discussed the 
beliefs with his neighbors. By his very presence at the meeting, 
and the investment of time (away from home and job) and 
money to attend, he seems also to have been committed. 

Although both Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong believed that 
they would receive their orders sometime during the meeting of 
the 23rd, neither apparently had any idea what the orders might 
be or in what form, or through what messenger they might be 
transmitted. Accordingly, they were prepared to consider almost 
anyone in the group a potential messenger from outer space and 
almost any declaration an order. They began by focusing their 

91 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

attention on the author present, the last person to arrive. He was 
met at the door by Mrs. Keech, who, after introducing him 
around the assembled circle, took him into an adjoining room and 
told him of the expected receipt of orders. She concluded by say- 
ing: "And we want you to lead us tonight." 

The author-observer, attempting to maintain his neutrality, 
protested that he could not officiate, that he was not "ready." 
Mrs. Keech countered firmly that he was "ready," and she would 
not be put off by further protests: "We all have to face our great 
responsibilities and take them," she maintained. 

Finally, the observer agreed to her demand. He was led into 
the living room and Mrs. Keech told the group that he would lead 
them tonight. With nine expectant gazes transfixing him, the ob- 
server fought for time: "Let us meditate," he ad-libbed, and 
bowed his head in silence. After a few minutes of silence, he 
asked Mrs. Keech to say a few words. She stated simply that the 
group had been called together for a special purpose, namely, the 
receipt of orders. She asked the observer if he had anything to 
add to that, but he had nothing, so the meeting returned to silent 
meditation as the tension mounted. 

After perhaps twenty minutes more of complete, tense silence. 
Bertha Blatsky, who was seated on the couch with her head 
thrown back and her eyes closed, began to breathe very deeply 
in short, sighing breaths. She continued, almost panting, and in- 
terspersing an occasional low moan for perhaps two minutes, and 
then began to gasp "I got the words, I got the words" over and 
over again. Her heavy breathing continued at a more rapid rate, 
and she began to sob. Within a few moments Dr. Armstrong and 
Mrs. Keech had crossed the room to assist her. They helped her 
stretch out on the couch, where Dr. Armstrong felt her pulse 
and, satisfied, motioned that she should be left alone. Mrs. Keech 
sat next to the couch, but said not a word; and the rest of the 
gathering sat rooted to their chairs in uneasy silence. 

Bertha's panting and sighing became louder, turning into great, 
racking sobs, followed by swift, lip-quivering inhalation, all in- 
terspersed with breathless phrases: "I got the words . . ." Then, 

9» 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
"I am the Lord thy God . . . thou shalt . . . have no other . . . 
thou shalt have no other gods . . . before me." Her eyes closed, 
her whole body quivering with emotion she struggled, pantingly 
through the First Commandment again, and then fell briefly silent. 

After a brief interval Bertha began to speak again, haltingly, 
painfully, with many pauses: "This is Sananda," she gasped, 
"Sananda speaks, Sananda speaks. I am Sananda, I am Sananda. 
These are my sibets, my precious sibets . . ." She broke off sud- 
denly with a shriek, a cry of pain, and began to protest: "Oh no, 
not me, not me, He can't mean me . . . [a pause] ... I give 
you my sibets ... oh, no, he can't mean me, Oh no." Her voice 
trailed off into moans as Mrs. Keech sped to her side, loudly and 
clearly repeating: "Oh yes, he does, Bertha. Yes, Bertha, he does 
mean you." Turning halfway toward the rest of the group she 
added: "I had a message today that you were to take over the 
sibets. Yes, that's just what he means." Apparently Mrs. Keech 
was pinning her hopes for orders on Bertha since her first choice 
had failed her. Her assurances to Bertha seemed to calm the me- 
dium and Bertha emerged from her trance a few minutes later. 

Bertha Blatsky, married to a Lake City fireman, had once been 
a beautician but was currently employed as a clerk. She had been 
born in Poland, but raised in Iowa. She had attended Catholic 
schools, married when she was about nineteen, and remained 
faithful to her religious tenets until she was perhaps twenty-eight 
or twenty-nine when she began to feel disappointed in the church 
and broke off from it. She was deeply disturbed over the sterility 
of her marriage. In more than twenty years of rnarriage she had 
never been pregnant. Her energy and her lack of parental re- 
sponsibilities had driven her restlessly from job to job until she 
learned the trade of beautician, which seemed to bring her grati- 
fication, especially for the period when she operated her own 
shop. There she met May Novick, who was a client and became 
a close friend. There too she met the woman who introduced her 
to dianetics and to "metaphysics." 

Through her membership in the dianetics and Scientology 
group to which Edna Post also belonged. Bertha was invited to 

93 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

hear Mrs. Keech talk and was impressed. When Mrs. Keech 
needed secretarial assistance to type copies of the lessons, it was 
Bertha who thought immediately of May Novick and persuaded 
her to help. Both Bertha and May were in contact with Mrs. 
Keech during the spring and summer, but stopped seeing her 
after she went to Collegeville in August, and did not hear from 
her again until early November. Up till this night, Bertha, while 
interested and attentive, had never played a prominent role. 

Bertha was the center of attraction during the break which fol- 
lowed her emergence from her trance and virtually all talk cen- 
tered around her performance. She declared herself baffled by 
what had just happened. "I've never had an experience like that," 
she said. She kept repeating that it had been a "terrific experi- 
ence," and she couldn't put into words how it felt. She had been 
afraid and uncertain how to behave although she "sort of knew," 
she said, that someone else's voice had "taken possession of" her. 

Marian Keech impressed on Bertha that her new job was a big 
one, a job requiring her to live up to great responsibilities. Mrs. 
Keech also added her envious congratulations when she men- 
tioned that she had wanted, even prayed, for the "power of speech" 
but had been "given writing." Dr. Armstrong offered Bertha 
some advice about relaxation and letting one's mind go blank 
while the control's thoughts entered. Refreshed by these words 
as well as by a drink of bottled spring water. Bertha Blatsky 
readily returned to the couch, announcing that she would "try 
it again and see what happened." 

No one knew it then but the high point of the evening had 
passed, and the remainder was a tedious, painful monotony as 
Bertha struggled to live up to the thunderbolt she had hurled. 
During the next hour she called each member of the group to her 
side, and gave them one by one some spiritual message, some 
word of comfort, or blessing, from Sananda. She took another 
break. About 10:30 p.m. she resumed her position on the couch, 
but only empty phrases, tediously repeated, came from her mouth. 
"And the blessings of Sananda, on these precious, precious, pre- 
cious [repeated eleven rimes] . . . precious sibets . . . and so it 

94 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

is, SO be it, be it so, forever and ever, and ever [fourteen times] 
. . . and ever." 

During the break at midnight she was visibly discouraged, and 
tentatively suggested to Mrs. Keech that perhaps she should try 
no more that night for messages. But Mrs. Keech would not hear 
of it: "This is just the beginning. You haven't seen anything yet. 
If you think the evening is over, you're mistaken. We don't know 
what this is all about, but I have the feeling they want us to go 
ahead. They're doing this for a purpose." Turning to the rest of 
the group, she warned in tones of grim elation: "If anybody 
thinks he's going to get any sleep tonight, he's got another think 
coming. There isn't time for sleep. They've got work for us to do." 

About an hour later, after another round of "precious sibets," 
Bertha, speaking in her "own" voice, suggested again that it 
might be advisable to stop for the night. But Mrs. Keech was 
firm: "No, no. Bertha," she cried, "you haven't gone the last 
mile yet." 

Toward i a.m. Dr. Armstrong quietly told Mrs. Keech that he 
felt Bertha was "off the beam," and that all this talk didn't 
amount to anything. In a distinctly audible tone, Mrs. Keech dis- 
agreed: "Oh no, no. I am not going to break the porter's form 
[i.e., the Guardians' plan]. This is the discipline. It's a hard disci- 
pline but you have to learn it. I'm not going to take the respon- 
sibility for stepping in to stop her." 

A moment or two later the medium's voice declared that some- 
one in the room was trying to break the porter's form, and 
warned everyone not to break the porter's form. Mrs. Keech 
nodded and smiled wisely at this admonition, while Dr. Arm- 
strong appeared to accept the rebuke ruefully. Clearly Mrs. 
Keech was still hoping that specific orders would come through 
Bertha. 

Although the session continued until eight o'clock in the morn- 
ing, there was no appreciable change in the general pattern of 
Bertha's speech. The only interruption occurred when, about 
2:30 A.M., Frank Novick, resisting the entreaties and tears of his 
wife, stalked out of the house to go home and get some sleep. 

95 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

The Other members of the group either remained in the living 
room, occasionally dozing, or retired to the Keech's attic, where 
they stretched out on one of the numerous beds or cots that gave 
the place the look of a dormitory. 

The expected orders did not come through that night. Apart 
from her message about leading the sibets, Bertha said almost 
nothing that was relevant to the ideology of the movement. At 
one point, Edna Post asked Mrs. Keech whether Bertha's commis- 
sion from Sananda would mean that the date of the flood "was 
moved up." Mrs. Keech vigorously denied this; no change in the 
date had been given, she asserted. She added, however, that if 
December 2 1 were a "wrong date," if the flood did not occur, it 
would be because the prediction had been a disciplinary prepara- 
tion for us, a "test" of faith. For the group as a whole. Bertha's 
new role made no change in expectations about what would hap- 
pen. Her performance was perplexing to the group and Mrs. 
Keech did nothing to resolve the confusion. 

One of Bertha's last acts in her early morning trance had been 
to call a second meeting for that very night, November 24, at 
II P.M. She asserted this time would be "favorable" for the re- 
ceipt of messages. It later turned out that her husband, who dis- 
approved of her explorations in the occult, worked the swing 
shift and would be on duty after 1 1 p.m. 

The intervening daylight hours passed quietly, with only four 
people remaining in the Keech house: Mrs. Keech, Dr. Arm- 
strong, Qyde Wilton, and the author-observer. These four repre- 
sented, to Mrs. Keech at least, a symbolic group — one from the 
East, one from the South, one from the North, and herself from 
the West. On the previous evening these four, and these alone, 
had shared unleavened bread and bottled spring water from spe- 
cial glasses in a ceremony Mrs. Keech described as "re-creating 
the Upper Room experience." On the following morning, ritual 
purity was preserved and "breakfast" consisted of some more 
matzoth and, this time, hot spring water served in coffee cups. 

Some desultory discussion of Bertha's mediumship sparked Mrs. 
Keech to remark that she expected big things from the meeting 
96 



THE LONG WATT FOR ORDERS 

on the coming night, perhaps even orders to unseal her secret 
books of writings. Once again, however, she asked the author 
who was present if he had brought a message for the group. 

Dr. Armstrong discussed his dismissal from the college, and 
showed his eagerness to be receiving orders as to what he should 
do next. During the last portion of the all-night seance, Edna 
Post had asked whether she should resign from her job or not, 
and Armstrong had announced his dismissal, pointing out to the 
group that it had obviously been "part of the Plan" to prepare 
him for "some important job" (i.e., in the service of the Guar- 
dians). Finally, May Novick had told the group that she had 
recently been dismissed from her secretarial position. 

Reviewing these developments at breakfast, Dr. Armstrong 
pointed out that they could not be coincidental — clearly, some- 
thing was afoot, and "the boys upstairs" (within the group of 
believers he frequently used this term instead of the more formal 
"Guardians") were planning something. He expected to get his 
orders momentarily and hoped they would come this night. He 
was ready, he said, to go anywhere, do anything. When the ob- 
server asked him about the earlier plan to go to the safe places 
in the hills, he was vague. That plan was still on, he said; neither 
he nor Mrs. Keech had heard anything to the contrary from the 
Guardians. But he just didn't know because there hadn't been 
any more orders. Dr. Armstrong went on to elaborate his own 
opinions as to what might happen. Some of the group, he felt, 
might be picked up individually by flying saucers, especially 
those who had immediate or important tasks to do. 

The Wednesday night meeting began at 1 1 p.m. with the same 
audience, except for the absence of Frank Novick and the addi- 
tion of a male observer who had called in the morning to arrange 
his invitation for that night. Although the audience was the same, 
the performer was not. The group saw a new and forceful Bertha. 
Gone were the incoherence, the repetition, the appeals to Mrs. 
Keech for help. With an air of confidence, even of command, 
she took her place on the couch, flung one arm over her eyes and 
began to speak. No sobbing or panting preceded her perform- 

97 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

ance. She slid into her role with professional ease and began to 
lecture, confidently, authoritatively, to the meeting. 

Her assumption of authority was corroborated when it became 
clear that the voice speaking through her this night was not that 
of Sananda but the Creator Himself. Having thus trumped Mrs. 
Keech's ace. Bertha proceeded to discuss such matters as "the 
good," "the will," the "I," and the "Am." As she progressed in these 
instructions she became more forceful and more domineering. 

Although most of the Creator's teachings were irrelevant to 
the ideology of the movement, and to the flood prediction. He 
laid considerable emphasis on questions of will, self -discipline, and 
obedience. In brief, the Creator's view was that everyone had the 
responsibility to organize and develop his own will, that action 
was a matter of individual decision and choice. This philosophy 
of self-determination, or, as it was later called, one's "inner know- 
ing," became thoroughly accepted by the group. 

At about 4:30 A.M., the Creator's spokesman suggested that 
there be a third meeting to be held on the following night. Clyde 
Wilton protested that he had already stayed away from his fam- 
ily one day longer than he had planned, that he had missed two 
days' work, and that if any more time had to be taken off, he 
would have to ask for a leave of absence, which would require 
his explaining his purpose at length to his supervisor. Further- 
more, he added, the trip was expensive. He therefore outlined a 
plan: that those who dwelt out of town be allowed to meditate 
at home while the group was meeting, and that the instructional 
proceedings be recorded and sent to out-of-town members who 
could then read them. 

The Creator promptly and flatly vetoed the plan. There would 
be no recording of anything that was said at a group meeting — 
that was a rule. Furthermore, it would not be sufficient to medi- 
tate at home; there were things to be learned and everyone must 
receive instruction. Finally, the Creator stipulated that there must 
be at least three more instructional sessions during the next three 
weeks, since time was short and much had to be accomplished. 
Thereupon, Clyde Wilton proposed a second plan, namely, three 
98 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
meetings in succession on the following weekend. After asking 
if there were any objections to this plan, the Creator announced 
His willingness to cooperate. 

The events of this night had been irrelevant to the central inter- 
est of the group. No orders had been forthcoming, and, indeed, 
the cataclysm had not even been mentioned until shortly after 
5 A.M., when the Creator spontaneously remarked: "I am wonder- 
ing if I should bring up the question of the date. Let me see, I 
can't decide if I should or not. Are you desirous of knowing 
about the date?" Mrs. Keech seemed quite tense and anxious to 
hear what the Creator would say. The voice from the couch 
sighed: "Well, then I will bring it up. What do you wish to 
know?" The room was electric with tension during the pause that 
followed Mrs. Keech's inevitable question: "Has the date we have 
been given been invalidated?" The reply of the Creator was 
lengthy: 

"It is not for me to invalidate that which has been given you. 
She who has given it to you has been faithful and has worked 
very hard and has been responsible for the work which led to 
this wonderful, precious meeting tonight. Her work has been 
well done and she has been faithful to those who instructed her 
and to whom I gave the task of fixing the date and telling her 
of it. Nor do I belittie her work when I say that she has been a 
good prophet, but tonight you are in the presence of the Creator 
who has chosen the greatest prophet, the Bertha, who ever was 
or ever will be." 

The group meeting came to a bone-weary halt at 5:45, but 
activity did not cease, for each member was commanded to have 
a personal counseling session with the Creator, while the rest of 
the group stayed out of earshot, munching fruits, nuts, and mat- 
zoths, drinking Nescafe or spring water, and conversing. 

Dr. Armstrong was more emphatic about the validity of the 
date than the Creator had been. In a conversation with one of 
the observers earlier in the evening he had made his views clear: 

"We've had that date mentioned several times. I mean, it's come 
through in lots of messages: to our kids, to Marian, to us; and 

99 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

after all, we know it is a significant date too. It's not just an acci- 
dent, like the equinox or something. You see, it's the day on 
which the Essenes moved out of their old house and went looking 
for a new master and teacher. They had prayed for a universal 
teacher, and on the 20th of December they moved out of their 
old house to go looking for him, so it's a very significant date. 
And, anyway, you know it's the 21st, not the 25th that Jesus was 
really bom. So we're pretty sure of the date." 

The topic of proselyting had come up during the meeting, 
when the Creator had remarked that the lessons were "closed," 
that they were restricted to the group presently assembled, but 
that they were to be used "for the enlightenment of the world." 
The Creator then clarified this by stating that members of the 
group were encouraged to instruct others and to disseminate 
information, "for the good of the world," but to do so "with dis- 
cretion," not promiscuously, not by telling others precisely what 
had happened on this night in this room, nor by talking to unsym- 
pathetic people, who might ridicule the beliefs, but by enlighten- 
ing people "who are sympathetic." There was also a strong impli- 
cation ^at one ought not to mention the existence of the group. 
During his personal counseling period an observer pursued the 
matter further and was told by the Creator: 

"Remember that you alone cannot save the world or anyone 
in it. Unless they will it, they cannot be taught or saved. You are 
not to grab anyone or seize him and try to teach him. You can 
very gently lead someone who is already willing and who will 
join his will with yours and mine to reach the light, but you 
cannot take anyone who is unwilling and save him. You are not 
to tire yourself with trying too hard to rescue others. Gently and 
a little at a time you can push people, but you must avoid rushing. 
You must avoid hurrying things. If you find yourself having to 
rush with a person, stop and give up. It would not be right." 

In short, the new "source" of spiritual information preached a 
pattern of proselyting similar to that we have heard from Mrs. 
Keech and Dr. Armstrong: be cautious, be discreet in telling 
anyone about our beliefs; avoid ridicule; do not force anyone; and 
100 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

tell the secrets only to those who you are sure will listen with 
a sympathetic ear. 

The net result of the two group meetings on November 2 3 and 
24 was to heighten the ambiguity of an already unclear situation. 
Bertha's elevation to a position of influence, if not leadership, 
meant that there were now two "sources" of information from 
the beyond: the Creator, and Sananda. It was not immediately ap- 
parent that the two sources, or their earthly spokesmen, were in 
complete accord. Rather little of what the Creator had to say had 
any direct bearing on the ideology developed through Sananda. 

Furthermore, it was not clear whether the Guardians had trans- 
mitted the "important message" that Mrs. Keech had anticipated. 
No one had received his orders — or had he? Were orders buried 
somewhere in the Creator's words? What had happened to the 
plan for evacuation to the "safe places"? Mrs. Keech was vaguer 
than ever on the subject, saying she was simply "waiting for 
orders." Dr. Armstrong was beginning to believe that he, per- 
sonally at least, would be picked up by a flying saucer before the 
cataclysm. 

By eight or nine o'clock on Thursday morning, which was 
Thanksgiving Day, the company had departed, leaving only Dr. 
Armstrong at the Keech home. In this vegetarian group, there 
was scarcely any interest in the holiday feast and even some jokes 
about it, so the doctor was in no hurry, apparently, to return to 
Collegeville and his family. When he did return to CoUegeville 
that night or the following morning, he set about winding up the 
affairs of the Seekers in anticipation of his imminent departure 
from the earth. 

Because many of the students were still absent from College- 
ville on their Thanksgiving vacations, only twelve people (besides 
the observers) attended the Sunday Seekers' meeting of Novem- 
ber 28. In addition to the two adult Armstrongs, their older 
daughter, Cleo, and their son, there were present Bob Eastman, 
Kitty O'Donnell, and five other more peripheral members. The 
meeting was fairly short, by Seekers' standards, but some impor- 
tant things were communicated. 

lOI 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Up to this point, news of Dr. Armstrong's dismissal had been 
confined to a limited circle — even Bob Eastman and Kitty O'Don- 
nell did not know of it — but now he announced it to the group. 
He drew from this action two inferences: that "the boys upstairs" 
had arranged his discharge in order to free him for more im- 
portant work with them; and that "the heat was on" not only 
him but anyone associated with him. Comparing himself some- 
what elliptically to the early Christian martyrs (and, perhaps, to 
the earliest of them all) he pointed out that the administration 
of the college must have been very much impressed by what he 
was saying to take such a drastic step. It must be, therefore, that 
his beliefs and his teachings were upsetting to the administration 
and they would spare no pains to abuse him and his followers. 
Accordingly, it was very important to conceal any evidence of 
the belief system. Thus, from a position of ambivalence and hesi- 
tancy regarding proselyting, the CoUegeville contingent began 
to move toward concealment of their beliefs and activities. 

Mrs. Armstrong announced that she had stopped editing and 
duplicating lessons. She urged those who had copies of the les- 
sons to "keep them under cover," and Dr. Armstrong said that 
he had received orders to destroy all extra copies of lessons, as 
well as the group's mailing list. Even the names of members of 
the Seekers and correspondence with interested individuals from 
out of town were to be taken out of the Armstrong house or 
burned in the fireplace. Dr. Armstrong had received these orders 
in Lake City before he left. By Sunday night, the Armstrongs 
had destroyed all the documents they felt were incriminating. 

Dr. Armstrong also announced that this would be the last meet- 
ing of the Seekers, as a group in formal session. Visitors to the 
house would be welcome, of course, but there would be no more 
meetings. Furthermore, there would be no more new members 
accepted into the group. The "eleventh hour" had passed, and 
no one else might join. 

Dr. Armstrong next told his audience that Sananda had changed 
his plans. It was now unclear whether he (Dr. Armstrong) would 
be going to one of the "safe places," but he rather doubted it. 
1 02 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

He expected, instead, to be picked up directly by saucer. In any 
event, there would not be a movement of the Collegeville group, 
qua group, to one of the refuges in the hills. Rather, each person 
would receive his own orders, probably directly — he would hear 
a voice telling him where to go and what to do. Some would be 
told merely to remain in their houses; some would be told to go 
to specific places to be picked up. But, if one were among the 
chosen, he could be sure of this much: he would receive some 
orders. 

Time was short, the doctor emphasized, but everyone must 
keep calm and get a grip on himself. He must not panic and he 
must be prepared for any eventuality. Some people had already 
been picked up by saucers for transportation to other planets, 
and more would follow them soon; others would be directed to 
"safe places," which might actually be rougher, since they would 
be without the comforts of civilization, there to stay for perhaps 
a year before being taken to other planets; and some of the 
chosen might even be ordered to go under in the coming flood, 
for reasons best known to the inscrutable Guardians. 

Furthermore, Dr. Armstrong stated, it was not necessary to be 
enlightened — i.e., informed of the belief system — in order to be 
saved. In fact, some of the most important work of the chosen 
among this enlightened group would be to calm and comfort 
those who were picked up by saucer or directed to the "safe 
places" without knowing why or what was happening to them. 
For the present, he said in conclusion, orders were for all to go 
about the daily routine of living, and to attract as litde attention 
as possible. He specifically instructed the group to "make no 
special effort to proselyte," since such actions would only bring 
investigations and pressure from the college authorities. This 
order did not forbid instructing someone who came to one of the 
enlightened in a sincere fashion wanting help— but the members 
should not broadcast what they knew. 

Finally, near the end of the meeting. Dr. Armstrong played a 
tape recording to the group. It was a seance conducted by a me- 
dium from Steel City, Mrs. Ella Lowell, who spoke with the voice 

103 



WHEN PROPHECY FAH-S 

of "Dr. Browning, from the seventeenth chair of the seventh 
density" in the spirit v/orld. The seance at which the recording 
was made had taken place during the fall (probably mid-October) 
at Dr. Armstrong's house, but, as far as we can tell, the recording 
had not been played publicly in a meeting until this time. 

It contained a number of vague references to the coming flood 
— e.g., "within the next three years . . . everything you are ac- 
customed to will be washed away"; "Some of you will be on a 
plateau and will see the world crumble about you"; "Most of the 
earth will be uninhabitable, being turned upside down and ex- 
posed to the cleansing power of water, coming up shining and 
clean. It's almost like an agitator in your washing machine. Very 
simple." Dr. Browning did not mention any date for the disaster, 
but he was quite positive in reassuring the people at the seance 
that they had all "been selected" to be saved and assured them 
that "Not anyone in this room will lose his life through any form 
of natural disaster." 

Furthermore, Dr. Browning's talk included a great many gen- 
eral ideas and specific notions we have already noted in Dr. Arm- 
strong's and Mrs. Keech's discourses. For example. Dr. Browning, 
on proselyting, said: "You are going to be willing to share your 
special knowledge but you are not going to care whether anyone 
accepts you or not. And you are not to be concerned whether 
anyone accepts this special knowledge or not . . . You are not 
here as a Salvationist . . ." Much of the lore of flying saucers 
was also dispensed through Dr. Browning. "Certain ships cannot 
be lowered nearer the earth than the three-mile limit. You will 
be lifted bodily in peapod ships, which will take 8-10 people to 
a mother-ship." 

Dr. Armstrong received special instructions, rather flattering 
ones, that indicated his importance in the coming time of trouble: 
"He will give power and be a beam of power. He will create an 
avura. He will be charged with an electro-magnetic force that will 
fill all the cells of his body and make him immune to any death 
or disease. And that will be done on a space craft." 

Just how, when, or why Dr. Armstrong came in contact with 

104 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

Mrs. Lowell is not clear. It is our guess that he met her through 
the Steel City Flying Saucer Qub and it is highly probable that 
he discussed Mrs. Keech's messages with Mrs. Lowell during the 
late summer and fall, although the two ladies did not meet at that 
time. Mrs. Lowell had been a medium, in touch with Dr. Brown- 
ing, for a number of years and was a highly experienced person 
in the art of communicating with the spirit world. Her perform- 
ances were fluent, imaginative, and ingenious. It is clear that she 
took pains to flatter Dr. Armstrong and delivered messages that 
must have inflated his feeling of importance. He must have been 
correspondingly impressed by her skill and by the apparent 
knowledge of her mentor, and, in the weeks just before December 
21, Mrs. Lowell played an important, if confusing, role in the 
activities of the group in Collegeville as well as that in Lake City. 

Although the Sunday afternoon meeting of the Seekers had 
been announced to be the last formal meeting, it was not, as we 
have said, well attended by the college students. Dr. Armstrong 
therefore called another "last" meeting of the group for the fol- 
lowing night, Monday, November 29. The turnout was excellent 
— some nineteen students, including all those whom we have de- 
scribed in detail. Two strangers who appeared at the door seeking 
admission were turned away, in accordance with the new "closed 
group" policy annoimced on Sunday. The members present heard 
essentially a repetition of the discussion on the previous day. 

Without having discussed the recently concluded meetings in 
Lake City, Dr. Armstrong announced that he would be going to 
Lake City the following weekend and that he might well not 
return. He was on "twenty-four-hour call," he explained, and his 
orders might come through anytime. Mrs. Armstrong felt she 
would return, however; that "they" wouldn't be "taking her" 
just yet. The doctor advised the students to go about their daily 
routines and to await their orders. In effect, he abdicated his posi- 
tion of leadership and left his followers completely on their own. 
Since there was nothing to be done in preparation for the disaster, 
they did just that. 

During the following week, the Armstrongs went about prac- 

105 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

ticing what they had preached at the Sunday and Monday meet- 
ings. One afternoon a deputation of three high school students, 
classmates of his son, waited upon Dr. Armstrong, seeking an 
explanation of the rumor that the world was coming to an end. 
Calmly and patiently, the doctor explained that the rumor was 
exaggerated. He belittled the idea of a cataclysm and said that 
there were going to be extensive magnetic changes in the earth's 
surface but that this was not the same as the end of the world, 
and they were not to become panicky or excited. He shifted the 
topic to flying saucers then, and discoursed on communication 
with other planets. When the young people had left, Dr. Arm- 
strong felt pleased at the way he had handled the situation. He 
pointed out again that it was currently necessary to play down 
the account of the cataclysm and to lower rather than raise fear 
of it. He felt he had been right in urging them to believe only 
what "appealed to their reason." 

Relieved of her editing and circulation chores, Mrs. Armstrong 
busied herself in housework and seemed to be almost compul- 
sively absorbed in that task. Yet her expectations had not changed. 
One night when Bob Eastman was watching her move clothes 
from the washer to the dryer, he said he would bet she'd be glad 
when "all this is over with," and she answered that it wouldn't 
be long now, and she certainly would be glad. Again, one night 
when our female observer was helping wash the dishes, she ex- 
pressed surprise that the electric dishwasher was not in use. Mrs. 
Armstrong explained that the motor was worn out, and it would 
cost thirty-five or forty dollars to repair it. "It just isn't worth it," 
she continued, "because the time is so short now." 

On Friday, December 3, Dr. Armstrong left for Lake City 
taking with him not only his wife, but his daughter Cleo and Bob 
Eastman. The Armstrongs left their ten-year-old daughter in 
CoUegeville in the care of Kitty O'Donnell; their fifteen-year-old 
son stayed home, too, because he wanted to attend a formal dance 
at his high school. 

Although few of the CoUegeville student group had changed 
their daily routine, things were quite different in Lake Gty. On 
106 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
Saturday or Sunday, Edna and Mark Post had received "orders" 
through Mrs. Keech's writings to move in with Marian Keech 
and help take care of her. She required some care evidently, be- 
cause she went on a three-day fast, again dictated by orders, dur- 
ing which she appreciably lost weight, though she could ill afford 
to become any thinner, and suffered great pain, weakness, and 
loss of motor control. Edna and Mark had also fasted, though 
only for one day, again on orders from the Guardians. 

Furthermore, there had been almost blanket orders about quit- 
ting jobs. Mark Post had given up his job in the hardware store; 
Edna Post had resigned, somewhat embarrassedly, from the direc- 
torship of the nursery school; and Bertha had quit her job as a 
clerk in an industrial concern — all on orders received from the 
Guardians. All of them were living "from day to day," but for 
Edna and Mark especially, the daily routine had changed radi- 
cally. Not only were they living with Mrs. Keech, but all three 
were under orders not to leave the house — even to procure food. 
They were arranging for food by telephone orders or through 
the good offices of Mrs. Keech's husband who had accepted, 
though not welcomed, this change in his household, and who was 
greatly concerned over his wife's health. Yet he could not influ- 
ence her to give up her fast, or to disobey any of her other orders. 

It is hard to overestimate the power that such orders were able 
to exert over so convinced and sincere a believer as Edna Post. 
During the time that she was "under orders" to remain at Mrs. 
Keech's and not even to leave the house, Edna received a phone 
call from her sister, telling her that their mother was very ill and 
in much pain. Still Edna decided to obey the orders she had re- 
ceived and to remain in the house. In discussing this incident 
later on, Edna showed the strength of her conflict in her trem- 
bling hands and tearful expression. "It's a hard choice to make," 
was her main comment. Mrs. Keech, who was standing nearby, 
agreed that these were times of difficult choices, and pointed out 
that it was a question of deciding between one person and the 
universe of brotherhood — which was important? Edna stayed. 

There had been a small number of callers at the Keech house 

107 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

during the week, but no organized activity. Bertha Blatsky had 
dropped in one afternoon, and phoned a couple of times, usually 
with a problem of interpretation of something she had "received" 
from the Creator. Another caller was a complete stranger, a sales- 
man of cemetery lots who probably received the most unusual 
reception of his career when he announced his trade. "That," 
retorted Mrs. Keech, "is the least of my worries." But she invited 
him into the house and she and Edna Post spent over an hour 
explaining the ideology and the prediction to him. He promised 
to return for further instruction, and they expected him, but, as 
far as we know, he never showed up again. One expected visitor, 
a man who came every Thursday evening for his lesson, Marian 
said, failed to turn up. 

It was during this week that we first became aware of Mrs. 
Keech's growing conviction that her home was under surveillance 
by unfriendly people. Heretofore, she had frequently repeated 
that the house was protected by the Guardians who would see 
to it that no one would be admitted who should not be there. 
She had often mentioned that she left her doors and windows 
unlocked. But now she was concerned about attracting the atten- 
tion of the police, who, she said, often drove by and flashed their 
spotlight in her front window. "They're very anxious to know 
what we're doing," she once remarked. "We've got to keep 
everything looking normal." She urged our observer not to park 
his car in front of her house every time he called, lest it attract 
the attention of the police. Her concern was intermittent, but 
clear and growing, paralleling Dr. Armstrong's interest in main- 
taining secrecy. 

The meeting that Bertha Blatsky had scheduled for Friday, 
December 3, began in an unusual way. As each guest arrived for 
the evening meeting his attention was directed to a note on the 
coffee table in the living room: "I shall receive one sibet at a time 
as they arrive in the room over us for instructions where I shall 
remain until the evening meeting. Parich. Beleis." * Each sibet in 

* "Parich" was the title Mrs. Keech assumed during tliis phase of the 
movement and signed to her c<Hnmuniques from the Beyond. "Beleis" was 

108 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

turn climbed the stairs to the cramped attic where Mrs. Keech, 
thin and shivering, even though she huddled near the gas fire, 
delivered a personal message from Sananda. 

Downstairs, in the brightly lighted dining room and Uving 
room, the members greeted each other, were brought up to date 
on recent events by Mark, Edna, or Bertha, speculated about the 
meaning of Marian's unusual consultations, and anticipated the 
events to be unfolded during the evening. It was a goodly throng. 
No longer strangers, the members talked easily and fluently, in 
an atmosphere that was relaxed and almost gay. All the people 
who had attended the meeting of Wednesday, November 23, had 
returned, including Frank Novick, who had evidently yielded 
to the persuasion of his wife, May. Clyde Wilton had returned 
by air again from his home, and Mr. Keech, patient, kindly, and 
a little lost, hung on the fringes of the crowd. Dr. Armstrong, 
accompanied by his wife and daughter and by Bob Eastman, had 
driven in from Collegeville during the afternoon. Edna and Mark 
Post were present, of course, as was Bertha Blatsky. With the 
addition of three observers, the total audience in the room came 
to fifteen. 

In one room downstairs there was an air of excitement. Dr. 
Armstrong was busy ripping the zipper out of the fly of his 
trousers, while Mark Post energetically removed the eyelets from 
a pair of his shoes. Frank Novick was wearing a piece of rope in 
place of the belt that usually encircled his waist, as was Clyde 
Wilton. It turned out that all the members in their private con- 
sultations with Mrs. Keech had received orders to remove all 
metal from their persons and had zealously complied, not only by 
emptying their pockets of change and taking off wristwatches 
and eyeglasses, but by hterally cutting apart and tearing out me- 
tallic portions of their clothes. The rationale for this odd action 
was simple, Dr. Armstrong explained: if you're going for a ride 
in a flying saucer, you must not wear or carry any metal on your 
body, because contact with metal would produce severe bums. 

a recuiiing salutation and complimentary close to messages exchanged by 
the beUevers, as well as a greeting and farewell. 

109 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

He added that the technical details were not, of course, clear 
since we humans were so woefully underdeveloped technologi- 
cally; but he did not need to know everything at once; the order 
had come through and that was enough. 

Meanwhile, the individual consultations with Mrs. Keech were 
continuing, even though the hour for which Bertha had called 
the meeting, 7:30, had passed, and she was growing restless. 
Toward 8:30, a newcomer, unknown to any of the people down- 
stairs, appeared at the door and asked for Mrs. Keech. She ex- 
plained that she hadn't seen Mrs. Keech since the previous sum- 
mer, but had dropped in on impulse this night. When the last 
sibet had descended, the newcomer was ushered upstaks to see 
Mrs. Keech. Her consultation lasted between twenty and thirty 
minutes, or roughly twice as long as that of most of the members, 
and correspondingly delayed the beginning of the meeting. About 
9: 30, the unexpected caller left on a personal errand, saying she 
would return in ten or fifteen minutes. Shortly after she had gone, 
Mrs. Keech came downstairs, and the formal meeting got under 
way. 

The prolonged delay in starting the meeting apparently pro- 
duced extreme irritation in Bertha. During the intervening week, 
Bertha had become accustomed to her new position of power. 
Having tasted and relished the satisfactions of leadership, she was 
clearly prepared to accept the mantle which, in the beginning, she 
had worn so uneasily. It seems probable that her resultant irrita- 
tion accounts for a great deal of what she subsequently said dur- 
ing the evening. 

We shall not describe in detail the content of this meeting, 
which began at 9:45 Friday night, recessed at 3 a.m. on Saturday, 
began again at 9:30, and ended at about 6 p.m. on Saturday. Most 
of the occurrences of these two days were manifestations of 
Bertha's desire to reassert herself and to dominate the group. As 
such, they are irrelevant to our main theme, and the character 
of this meeting was different from anything before or after. It 
was essentially a stormy diversion that had little of lasting signif- 
icance for the movement, and we shall give a relatively brief 
no 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

account of the sometimes exciting, sometimes stupefying events 
of these two days for the intrinsic interest they may have for the 
reader. 

The meeting began with a number of petty assertions of Ber- 
tha's authority. She overruled Mrs. Keech on the decision as to 
where Bertha should sit, and on whether or not a particular light 
should remain burning. In subtle and gross ways. Bertha attacked 
much of the lore that Marian Keech had so carefully cultivated. 
Speaking with the voice of the Creator, she mocked the language 
that characterized Mrs. Keech's lessons: "I don't have to use fancy 
words like 'thee' and 'thou' and 'shalt.' We are talking cold 
turkey. You have had all the fancy words you need used on you 
before. There has been too much time wasted on this sort of stuff 
. . ." She ridiculed Sananda, belittling his knowledge: "Another 
in this room has been told that she was Mary but she was told 
that by Sananda, and Sananda did not know. Now you are getting 
it from the one who knows." 

Bertha next ridiculed the idea of fasting or self-deprivation and 
asserted that caring for and nourishing the body was an important 
duty. As if to make her dominance all the more apparent. Bertha 
brought to the Saturday meeting a small roast of beef, her con- 
tribution to the luncheon. It was the first time that anyone had 
seen meat on Mrs. Keech's table, but Bertha ate it with zest and 
urged others to "have some protein." Mrs. Keech and the Arm- 
strongs avoided the beef (as did the observers) but most of the 
other sibets followed Bertha's lead. 

Bertha's most blatant act of domination, however, was to turn 
away the newcomer to whom Mrs. Keech had devoted so much 
attention during her individual consultations earlier in the eve- 
ning. This lady had left the house before the Creator began speak- 
ing, but had announced her intention of returning. When she did 
come back, the Creator's voice peremptorily refused her admit- 
tance, even though Mrs. Keech half-protested. Marian later com- 
mented that the newcomer was a member of two flying saucer 
clubs and was "very important to us," adding: "It broke my heart 
to see her turned away." 

Ill 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

The climax of the Friday evening meeting occurred near eleven 
o'clock, when Bertha's voice announced the miracle that had 
been visited upon her. She worked up to the climax gradually, 
over about half an hour, describing through the Creator's voice 
the shocking and bewildering information that He had instilled 
into her during the early part of the week — how she couldn't 
accept it at first, how she feared she was going mad. She had been 
told, the Creator asserted, that she was to be the mother of Christ! 

As the clock began to strike eleven, with dramatic suddenness 
Bertha began to moan and cry for help: "The Christ has not been 
bom in spite of what the Bible says . . . but the baby will be 
bom right now! I need help! Oh, doctor, help me! A bed must 
be prepared, I have pain. Something is happening in my abdomi- 
nal area! A bed and a doctor . . . and a nurse. Upstairs . . . No 
one else must be in the room. Oh, help me!" 

Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong were at her side in a moment 
and she was assisted up to the attic. There, after ten or fifteen 
minutes of groaning and writhing, she seemed to regain possession 
of herself and calmed down. While Mrs. Keech and May Novick 
remained to help her dress, the rest of the company assembled, 
quietly, at loose ends, in the dining room. 

The effect of Bertha's performance was numbing. Everyone 
confessed to complete bewilderment at what had happened, and 
asked his neighbor for interpretation which, of course, was not 
forthcoming. Edna Post, as mystified as anyone, perhaps best ex- 
pressed the feeling of the group: "I don't know what it means. 
I guess we'll just have to wait and see." 

When Bertha finally did descend, with Mrs. Keech, she was 
almost girlishly naive in her protestations that it was "all a mys- 
tery to me." She kept assuring the group that she had not expected 
anything like the actual birth pangs and seemed quite concerned 
that no one believe that she had planned the "show" (as she called 
it, herself) in advance. She finally remarked, "Perhaps we'll find 
out what it means when I go back in [to the trance]." 

And find out she did. The whole incident, the Creator asserted, 
had been a lesson, a demonstration of His originality and His 

112 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
intention to "run this show" His own way. Finally, it was a joke 
too, a joke played on all of the group to jolt them out of their 
"preconceived ideas" and show them that anything could happen. 

The remainder of the Friday night meeting was anticlimactic, 
being taken up with lessons and discussion about such topics as 
absorbing learning without thinking; the technique of not think- 
ing; souls, their division and reunion as soulmates; and further 
assertions of the Creator's power and wisdom. 

A large portion of the Saturday meeting was devoted to at- 
tempts to demonstrate the Creator's power to heal. He attempted 
to remove a tiny blemish from the skin just under Bertha's right 
eye, and, when the audience seemed unconvinced that the mark 
was disappearing, the Creator announced somewhat peevishly that 
the demonstration had been a test of the audience's honesty in re- 
porting what they saw. The Creator's major attempt at healing 
took up more than an hour which He spent on curing May 
Novick of her long-standing fear of walking alone outdoors. 

The response of the various members of the group to Bertha's 
performance during these two sessions varied somewhat, but was, 
on the whole, accepting, almost as if they had been beaten into 
submission. Only Dr. Armstrong showed enthusiasm, when he 
remarked, late Friday night, that he had never seen such effective 
teaching in his life — "the pounding and pounding we're getting." 
Mrs. Keech's response was to incorporate the happenings in her 
scheme of things: "They're getting us ready for something big." 
Her explanation of the attacks on her cherished beliefs was that 
the Creator was demonstrating the principle that each person 
should "follow his inner knowing." 

Among her closing acts on Saturday afternoon Bertha re- 
emphasized the doctrine of "inner knowing." In the Creator's 
voice she pronounced everyone in the group now capable of re- 
ceiving messages themselves. Such messages, she emphasized, were 
to be used only for personal guidance and enlightenment, and not 
for the instruction of others. The Creator did not prohibit "spread- 
ing the light" to people outside the movement, but emphasized 
ttut the task of instruction was limited to Bertha and Mrs. Keech. 



113 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Bertha also spoke for the Creator in the matter of "the brother- 
hood." All the members present were brothers of the "Brotherhood 
of Sananda" and the "Order of the Light." She demonstrated the 
secret sign by which one brother might recognize another — the 
left hand palm down on the right shoulder, and the head bowed 
— and cautioned the group to use the sign unostentatiously and 
only to make sure of the identity of someone who claimed to be 
a brother. 

These last acts of Bertha's emphasize once more the general 
attitude toward proselyting. Attempting to convince others was 
not specifically prohibited, but it was certainly not encouraged, 
and the task of instructing neophytes was limited to Bertha and 
Mrs. Keech. The introduction of the sign of the Brotherhood 
marks the first clear-cut distinction between "chosen" and "hea- 
then," and further points up the extreme discretion in talking 
about the ideology that was being imposed on the members. 

Except for these remarks on proselyting, only one occurrence 
during the entire two days of meetings has relevance for our in- 
terest in the movement. During a "private consultation" with the 
Creator, one observer, asking what the future held for him, was 
strongly advised to quit his job as a schoolteacher because it was 
not as important as his duty in the Brotherhood. He was assured 
that he could manage to get along without a job because there 
was so little time left before the end. Here, as far as we know, 
is the first time Bertha joined Mrs. Keech in urging members to 
make major changes in their lives and to commit themselves to 
belief in the flood. 

In the main, the events of December 3 and 4 were diversionary. 
Although powerfully disconcerting, the impact of these meetings 
was short-lived, for the members of the group soon returned to 
their major preoccupation — preparation for the cataclysm. One 
clear result of the meetings was that there were now two "inde- 
pendent channels" of information from the Guardians. There had 
been some conflict between these two channels, but, in the ensu- 
ing weeks they began to work in harmony, "validating" each 
114 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

Other's messages. Before long, too, Mrs. Keech had regained her 
position of leadership. 

As matters stood on Sunday, December 5, however, Bertha's 
behavior had created a perplexing situation, for she had chal- 
lenged some of Mrs. Keech's most dearly held tenets, but she had 
not produced the orders that everyone was waiting for. Most of 
the members had to tolerate this uncertainty, but not so the Arm- 
strongs. Typically, they went to a third source. They returned 
to CoUegeville on Sunday night, and on Monday morning set out 
for Steel City to consult Ella Lowell. 

In the seance that took place that morning, Dr. Armstrong 
heard many things that must have gratified him as well as settled 
doubts in his mind. Dr. Browning, Mrs. Lowell's familiar spirit, 
discoursed for more than an hour and made a number of flatter- 
ing references to Armstrong's future importance in the coming 
crisis of the world. Dr. Browning never once mentioned Decem- 
ber 2 1 as the specific date, or in any other way directly confirmed 
Mrs. Keech's prediction, but he did give a good many details 
connected with the coming cataclysm. He supplied a lavish and 
vivid picture of how the chosen would be "taken up" in space 
ships, given a "spiritual anesthetic" so there would be no fear or 
pain, and assured his listeners that there would be no panic for 
them: "We'll put you to sleep and reborn you." He instructed 
the group not to tell their families what they knew: "You don't 
need to tell them. You know they will go to the same area as you 
. . . You and your immediate ones will be saved." 

Among the many items that Dr. Browning covered in his talk, 
there were a number that were consistent with the Armstrongs' 
previous beliefs and their picture of the cataclysm. These they 
remembered well, and, in the coming weeks, often quoted — for 
example, Dr. Browning's assurance that they "would know about 
the calamity. You will know the exact hour," and his statement 
that they might be picked up at any time, anywhere. 

The last part of Dr. Browning's talk urged his audience to 
"continue doing exactly as you have been doing in your daily 
routine until called upon to do otherwise." In answer to Daisy 

"5 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Armstrong's question "At this eleventh hour, would it be a good 
idea to inform other people that they should become interested?" 
Dr. Browning was brief and decisive: "It is too late. We have 
them all chosen anyway. It would be useless to try to change 
their minds." At another point in his talk, however, Dr. Browning 
said that if anyone came asking questions, it was the members' 
duty to inform the inquirer about the disaster and answer all his 
questions, since not everyone who had been chosen had been 
"beamed in" yet. Like Sananda and the Creator, Dr. Browning 
was preaching cautious and selective proselyting. In general, the 
Armstrongs seem to have been reassured by what they heard 
from Dr. Browning. 

Despite the fact that they had already disbanded the Seekers, 
on Wednesday, December 8, the Armstrongs planned another 
meeting of the group for the following day. Since Daisy Arm- 
strong had destroyed her list of members' names, and could not 
remember them all, she called on Susan Heath and Kitty O'Don- 
nell to assist her. They did well, for, although a heavy snow was 
being driven down by a bitter wind, a total of eighteen people 
showed up at the Armstrong home. Among them were all the 
heavily committed members and most of the moderately com- 
mitted. 

Dr. Armstrong began the meeting with a very brief account 
of the recent meeting in Lake City, and explained that a new 
"source," Bertha, had appeared in the group there. He went on 
to inform those present that he expected to get his own orders 
soon, and that he thought they would be receiving individual 
orders. He described his latest meeting with Ella Lowell, and 
added that he felt it would be best for them to hear, for them- 
selves, just what Dr. Browning had said. He thereupon played an 
hour and a half of tape-recorded stance, containing the material 
we have already mentioned above, and, of course, much more. 

Some of the listeners were entranced by the description of how 
they would be picked up and returned the next day to hear it 
again. Others were simply confused or left at loose ends as to 
what they should do personally to prepare for the flood. Bob 
ii6 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
Eastman and Kitty O'Donnell, who were practically members of 
the Armstrong household, accepted the barrage of instructions 
calmly. The only notable reaction came from Hal Fischer, the 
chief skeptic of the Seekers, who seemed to become more con- 
vinced of the flood prediction: "This," he remarked, "is inde- 
pendent evidence." 

The remainder of the week was without incident in CoUege- 
ville, until Sunday rolled around and things began to happen. Dr. 
Armstrong made a phone call to Mrs. Keech on Sunday after- 
noon, during which he learned that there was to be a meeting in 
Lake City on Tuesday night, the 14th, and he informed her that 
Ella Lowell would be paying a visit to his home on Sunday eve- 
ning. Whether he invited Mrs. Keech or she volunteered to come 
is unclear, but, at nine that night she arrived, with Mark and Edna 
Post; and the two women whose messages from the spiritual 
world had been guiding Dr. Armstrong's beliefs for so long finally 
met face to face. Dr. Browning had given many details about the 
modes of saucer pickup to be enjoyed by the chosen while being 
vague about the date; whereas Sananda had been firm in the mat- 
ter of the 2 ist, although he had been unclear in specifying how 
the elect were to be saved. Meanwhile, Dr. Armstrong had been 
serving as the vital link of communication between these two 
ladies, and each knew rather well what the other had been "given." 

One of Ella Lowell's first questions to Mrs. Keech raised the 
question of the latter's age. Recalling that Dr. Browning had once 
instructed her never to accept an earthly teacher who had been 
bom before 1900, Ella asked directly for Marian's birthdate. 
When the answer came back May 6, 1900, the possibility of dis- 
pute seemed to vanish. For reasons best known to herself, Ella 
Lowell accepted Mrs. Keech as her teacher on earth, and then 
proceeded to go into a trance and speak with Dr. Browning's voice. 

The details of this seance, while fascinating, would only en- 
cumber our report here. It is sufficient to say that Mrs. Lowell, 
through Dr. Browning, clearly and emphatically confirmed the 
validity of December 21 as the day of catastrophe, and in several 
references to the "source" or "teacher" in L^e Qty, showed a 

117 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

very deferential attitude. Furthermore, Dr. Browning acknowl- 
edged that the orders he gave to the Armstrongs and to other 
members of the group were subject to overrule, presumably from 
Mrs. Keech's writings. Dr. Browning's orders to Thomas Arm- 
strong, for example, were that he go to Lake City the following 
Tuesday and return to Collegeville on Friday, "unless other or- 
ders intervene." Mrs. Keech seemed entirely satisfied at the coop- 
erative relationship that grew up between her and Mrs. Lowell, and 
not the slightest sign of tension showed between the two women. 

On Monday afternoon, and again in the evening, Mrs. Lowell 
and Mrs. Keech continued to discuss their beliefs, feeling each 
other out on technical points and, apparently, storing up consid- 
erable information. It seems probable that their discussion resulted 
in the quiet, but final, abandonment of the very early plans to 
go to one of the "safe places" in the mountains. Instead, Dr. 
Browning's suggestion that the chosen would be picked up indi- 
vidually by flying saucers came to be accepted. 

The audience for these sessions included several Seekers who 
were meeting Ella Lowell face to face for the first time. She 
seems to have made a strong impression on Bob Eastman, Kitty 
O'Donnell, Hal Fischer, and Cleo Armstrong, and, through them, 
she continued to exercise a considerable influence on the College- 
ville group in the weeks to come. But the main immediate eifect 
of Mrs. Lowell's stances and her discussions with Mrs. Keech was 
to clear up a number of points on which Dr. Armstrong felt 
Sananda's messages had been ambiguous or vague. From that time 
on, he was sure he knew just what was going to happen. 

On Tuesday morning, the Posts and Mrs. Keech set out for 
Lake Qty, followed shortly by Thomas and Daisy Armstrong. 
The Armstrongs left behind them a disorganized and somewhat 
confused group of college students, most of whom would shortly 
be leaving for their homes, since the Christmas vacation was be- 
ginning. They left three children, putting the youngest in the 
joint charge of Kitty O'Donnell and our female observer. And 
they left a vacuum of information about their future plans. 

With the departure of the adult Armstrongs to Lake Qty, the 
ii8 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

center of interest shifted there, and remained there until after 
December 21, for the Armstrongs did not return to CoUegeville 
until well after that date. There were several developments of 
importance in CoUegeville, however, and we shall summarize 
them briefly at this point, before we return to the major line of 
our narrative — the events in Lake City. 

On Tuesday morning, just one week before the 21st of Decem- 
ber, Kitty O'Donneil drove Mrs. Lowell back to Steel City. Bob 
Eastman and Cleo followed later that afternoon and all four at- 
tended a seance that evening at which Dr. Browning addressed 
his remarks both to the CoUegeville contingent and to some of 
the regular members of Ella Lowell's circle in Steel City. 

Exactly what Dr. Browning had to say on this occasion is ob- 
scure (to us), but when the three disciples returned on Wednes- 
day, they were moderately unhappy. They had found that Mrs. 
Lowell's "group" in Steel City had not been told about the De- 
cember 2 1 prediction by Dr. Browning and did not believe in it. 
They noticed that Mrs. Lowell's spirit did not tell a consistent 
story; the strong affirmation of the date that Dr. Browning had 
given Mrs. Keech was not repeated in Steel City two days later. 
Rather, the ethereal doctor seemed to dismiss the whole question as 
rather trivial and turn his attention to problems of previous incarna- 
tion. In subtle ways too, Mrs. Lowell seemed to be trying to 
weaken the conviction of Bob Eastman and Kitty O'Donneil. Mrs. 
Lowell expressed to Kitty her fear that Bob was "so deeply in- 
volved" that if the flood didn't occur he would surely "crack up"; 
and she seemed also to be preparing Kitty for nonoccurrence of the 
flood. At first Cleo had been upset by what she heard, but later 
on Wednesday she rallied her convictions, telling our observer 
that the Steel City group didn't believe in the date because they 
"weren't meant to" believe in it. 

By Wednesday afternoon, most of the college students had 
drifted off on their separate ways for vacation. It was a relatively 
quiet day until about 6 p.m. when pandemonium broke loose. 

At a routine meeting of the college administration, the news of 
Dr. Armstrong's dismissal and the circumstances surrounding it 

119 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

were made public. An enterprising reporter from the Steel Qty 
evening paper picked up the story and put it on the press associa- 
tion wires. Within a few hours, the peace of the Armstrong home 
was shattered as telephone calls began to pour in from major 
newspapers, news magazines, and the wire services all across the 
country. 

It was fortunate that Cleo had regained some of her poise, for 
the burden of answering reporters' questions fell on her. Far from 
seizing this opportunity to propagandize for the belief system, 
she tried mightily to minimize the forecast of cataclysm. Her 
father was in Lake Qty, she told them, and not available for com- 
ment; he was looking for work there. She denied flatly that her 
father had predicted the end of the world, asserting that he simply 
believed there would be some changes in the earth's surface on 
December 21. Beyond this she refused to be pressed. She and her 
brother and sister were simply living their ordinary daily lives, she 
told the newsmen, and they would like to be left alone to do so. 

The barrage of phone calls persisted through Wednesday night 
and began again on Thursday morning, interspersed with calls 
from student members of the Seekers wanting to discuss the news 
break. By Thursday afternoon the newspapermen had located Dr. 
Armstrong in Lake City and turned their attention to him, but 
new distractions arose as practical jokers began telephoning the 
house, and telegrams and calls from sincere opponents or sup- 
porters of Dr. Armstrong's beliefs began to come in. For two 
days or more, life in the Armstrong home was a bedlam from 
early morning till very late at night. 

Qeo lost some of her composure when she saw the news stories 
in the Thursday editions. Angrily she denounced the papers that 
ridiculed her father, expressing the hope that the flood would 
come and show up the unbelievers. She and Kitty fabricated fan- 
tasies of violent destruction, with their having the last laugh as 
the waters swept over the multitudes who were mocking today. 
The two girls also took defensive measures against further pene- 
tration of their privacy, burning all remaining documents that 
related to the belief system and even destroying Mrs. Keech's 
120 



THE LONG WAIT FOB ORDERS 

address and telephone number in Lake Gty after memorizing it. 
Cleo's anxiety was real, though irrational. She pointed out that 
William Dudley Pelley had been "put in jail for his beliefs," and 
expressed the fear that those currently in the Armstrong house 
might suflFer the same fate if any "evidence" were found by 
(unnamed) investigators. 

In the middle of this chaos, Ella Lowell continued to sow the 
seeds of doubt. Bob Eastman went to a s6ance in Steel City on 
Thursday and returned with a tape recording of it which he 
played for Kitty, Cleo, George Scherr, and our observer. At the 
very beginning of the tape. Dr. Browning repudiated December 
21 as the date of the cataclysm, and then confusingly proceeded 
to "take back" that repudiation in part, through ambiguous state- 
ments and instructions. For example, Dr. Browning seemed to 
admit that the sky would be black on the 20th, and a flood would 
occur in Lake City on the 21st. But it would be days or weeks 
before the waters reached Collegeville, months before the coun- 
try as a whole was inundated. Dr. Browning had advised Bob 
Eastman to plan to spend Christmas with his parents in Steel City, 
yet to "act as if the flood were going to happen." The spiritual 
mentor of Mrs. Lowell explained that the date prophesied by Mrs. 
Keech was "a cultural idea," with no necessary relation to the 
plans of the spacemen. 

The effect of this tape on the four people in Collegeville was 
depressing and extremely upsetting. George Scherr expressed his 
bewilderment and seemed tense and restless. Kitty demanded angri- 
ly if this meant that she would have to go looking for a job now.' 
Qeo said she would have to, since there was no money left to 
keep her in college. Bob was shaken, although he tried to explain 
his theory that the change in expectations had been necessary in 
order to shatter their preconceived ideas. It was a depressed and 
fretful group who received a telephone call from Dr. Armstrong 
that night, in which he announced that he would not be return- 
ing from Lake City. He explained how difiicult and unpleasant 
his position was, besieged by the press, and praised Cleo for doing 
such a wonderful job at her end. The remainder of the conversa- 

121 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

tion was largely of personal matters and, if Cleo did give any 
indication of what she had just heard on Ella Lowell's tape, it 
seemed to have no effect on Dr. Armstrong. He told Cleo that 
great things were about to happen in Lake Qty and encouraged 
her to keep her spirits up. 

By the next morning, Saturday the i8th, Cleo and Kitty had 
recovered their spirits somewhat. Cleo pointed out again that the 
Steel Qty group hadn't been "meant to be given" the date, and 
this probably explained why Dr. Browning had talked the way 
he had. She even began to doubt Ella Lowell's skill somewhat. 
Bob Eastman, however, still had great faith in Mrs. Lowell. At 
11:30 another phone call from Lake City brought orders from 
Dr. Armstrong for Cleo and Bob to leave at once for Lake Qty — 
Sananda had commanded it, and they were to get going quickly for 
"something might happen anytime." Kitty and the others were 
to follow their own judgment, the doctor continued, and wait for 
further orders. This burst of instructions from the other end 
seemed to have a cheering effect on all hands, and they began to 
speak confidently again about "being taken up" in space ships. 

The remainder of Saturday and Sunday passed quietly, but 
there was evidence of mounting tension and fretfulness on the 
part of the disconsolate Kitty. Abandoned now by all except the 
two observers, the Armstrong's son (who spent most of his time 
out of the house with school friends), and the uneasy George 
Scherr, Kitty grew increasingly irritable. She tried to find tasks 
to occupy her time; she began to smoke heavily and to complain 
about being confined to the house, waiting for orders. Susan 
Heath called in, asked for reassurance, and found little. George 
Scherr sneaked out of his home and listened to tapes, trying to 
find some rock of certainty in the confusion around him. It was 
an agony of doubt and directionless drifting for the rest of the 
Seekers. Ella Lowell did nothing to relieve the tension when she 
dropped in at eight or nine o'clock on Sunday night and talked 
(in her "own" voice) of how the future would be glorious and 
the chosen would be engaged in happy, important work; of how 
122 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 
this would be a new age, and a better earth — all the while skirting 
any question of the validity of the date. 

Toward 1 1 p.m. Dr. Armstrong telephoned from Lake City to 
inquire whether the children were all right, and Mrs. Lowell 
betrayed a great desire to talk with him. She finally got an oppor- 
tunity and, after some chitchat about beaming in Lake City, made 
a remark to the effect that the 21st of December was not a par- 
ticularly significant date, strongly implying, in the context, that 
she did not expect the catastrophe to occur. Sharply, Dr. Arm- 
strong fired back his question: "What do you mean by that?" 
The question seemed to unsettle Mrs. Lowell, for she fumbled for 
a moment before replying that, well, of course, if there had been 
other orders received in Lake City, they would, of course, super- 
sede anything she had received from Dr. Browning. Some of this 
got across to Kitty who was not cheered by it, and was only 
further confused when Mrs. Lowell asked her to drive to Steel 
Qty on Tuesday night (i.e., well after the predicted occurrence 
of the cataclysm) for a special s6ance. 

The rest of the waiting period was pure hell for Kitty. She 
vacillated between doubt that the flood would come at all and 
conviction that Lake City would be inundated on the 21st and 
the rest of the country would gradually go under. Once, in her 
most doubtful period, she comforted herself with the thought, 
inspired by Dr. Browning, that even if the flood did not come, 
the beUef and the publicity connected with it would have done 
some good simply by "awakening people to God." She added that 
she herself had been made more religious and "a better person" 
by having undergone this experience and had abandoned many of 
her bad habits. Once, in a crisis of feeling, she burst out bitterly 
that she hoped the flood would come with a vengeance and wipe 
out mankind; but almost immediately she retracted her wrath and 
remarked that it was a pity so many people would have to die, 
but that was the only way God would be recognized. Her con- 
viction that some sort of disaster would occur frequently faltered, 
but in the end remained strong. She insisted on sleeping right next 

123 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

to the telephone in Dr. Armstrong's bedroom, since, she felt, she 
would probably get her orders by phone. 

George Scherr was virtually a resident of the house during the 
last two days. He too was restless and tense, and stuttered mark- 
edly, anxious lest his name be publicly associated with the move- 
ment, and anxious lest he miss any news or orders concerning the 
coming cataclysm. For him, as for Kitty, these were trying days. 

Meanwhile, a number of interesting events had occurred in 
Lake Gty during the week between the last group meeting (at 
which removal of metal had been so much emphasized) and the 
visit of Mrs. Keech and the Posts to CoUegeville. Among the most 
important were the change in Bertha's position to a secondary 
role; the decision to call a special group meeting for the instruc- 
tion of "new sibets"; and finally, the invitation Mrs. Keech re- 
ceived to give a talk on her ideas in a nearby small city. 

The events that brought about the change in Bertha's position 
began with a stormy scene between her and her husband. Before 
that Bertha had, by one means or another, prevented him from 
knowing of her participation in the group; he believed she was 
simply practicing dianetic therapy. Then a few nights after the 
"birth of Christ" episode, she burst forth with the whole story of 
her mediumship, her capacity to talk with the voice of the Crea- 
tor, her election to bear the Christ child, and related matters. 
Going into a trance, she behaved toward her husband as she had 
toward the members at the recent meeting in Lake City. The 
Creator gave him various orders and threatened to strike him 
dead at the first sign of disobedience. This revelation to a shocked 
and disapproving husband was the most important commitment 
Bertha made to the movement, for he ordered her not to leave 
the house without his permission and she was forced to disobey 
him in order to attend meetings of the group. Furthermore, by 
continuing her participation in the movement, she risked an in- 
vestigation of her sanity; her husband declared that, if she had 
not voluntarily given up all connection with the group by Janu- 
ary I, he was going to send her to a psychiatrist and destroy all 
the books and writings associated with the movement. 
124 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

At the same time, Bertha's husband held a council with Frank 
Novick who, apparently, had been trying to keep May away 
from Bertha's influence, and the two men appear to have agreed 
on tactics for restraining their wives. At any rate. May refused 
to visit Bertha or to allow Bertha to visit her. May Novick also 
refused to go to Marian Keech's house. 

These events committed Bertha heavily, and undermined her 
confidence in her ability to talk with the Creator's voice. De- 
prived of May's companionship, no longer free from her hus- 
band's surveillance, threatened by an inquiry into her sanity, she 
lacked her former sureness and poise. Having exposed her beliefs 
to an unaccepting audience, Bertha was psychologically deflated. 

Because several new people had expressed interest in the group, 
Marian had decided the previous week to hold a meeting for new 
"sibets." Her decision was supported by messages from the Guard- 
ians. She sent out invitations to a few people, but steadfastly 
maintained a policy of high selectivity as to whom she would 
invite. For example, during this week, two groups of sincerely 
interested high school students had called on her. One group she 
abruptly turned away; the other she invited into the house and 
talked to them for an hour about their major interest — flying 
saucers. She did not invite either group to the coming meeting. 

As the week drew toward a close, Marian Keech began to 
manifest expectations of imminence. One evening, when one of 
our observers called, she asked him if he had brought her a mes- 
sage. When he replied that his only message was "I am standing 
by you," she nodded. "Fine," she said. "This may be the night. 
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if we were taken up out of 
this house tonight." Concurrently, attempts were made to in- 
crease the involvement of some of the members. One of our ob- 
servers felt a persistent pressure on her to quit her job, and the 
other, as we have mentioned, had been explicitly ordered by the 
Creator, in private session, to quit his post. When our female 
observer announced that her job would be terminated on Decem- 
ber 17, Marian immediately invited the observer to move in with 
her. 



125 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

The meeting on the evening of December 14 was attended by- 
ten members of the group and a total of four observers — our two 
regulars in Lake City and the two authors who had not attended 
the previous meetings. In addition to Thomas and Daisy Arm- 
strong, Edna and Mark Post, Marian Keech and her husband, and 
Bertha, there were three new faces: Kurt Freund, Arthur Bergen, 
and a woman from the neighborhood. This woman had always 
been interested in mysticism, and had, on her own initiative, 
called on Mrs. Keech the previous summer and had returned 
several times for lessons. She appeared at Mrs. Keech's house this 
evening by chance, to return a pamphlet she had borrowed; and 
Marian informed her that she had been "sent." Throughout the 
evening, this woman gave the impression of being uneasy, if not 
frightened, and somewhat incredulous, although clearly impressed 
by what she heard. She left the meeting early, though unobtru- 
sively, and never returned. 

Arthur Bergen, on the other hand, became a regular member 
of the group. Between fifteen and sixteen years old, he was a high 
school student who was active in one or two flying saucer clubs 
in Lake City. Through a member of one of these clubs who knew 
Marian Keech, Arthur had learned of her lessons and had attended 
her "readings" at the Metaphysical Bookstore in Lake City dur- 
ing the early fall. A pale, slim, bookish lad, he seemed anxious to 
appear older than he was. Wanting to please and be accepted, he 
was always serious, deferential, and rather unpolsed. He experi- 
enced difficulty with his parents' apparent opposition to his mem- 
bership in Mrs. Keech's circle, an opposition that stemmed at least 
pardy from his father's bitter personal experience with some 
"doomsday preaching" in Sweden. 

Mrs. Keech showed considerable interest in Arthur and paid a 
great deal of attention to him. On Tuesday night, he had obtained 
permission to attend the meeting, and been warned not to stay out 
late. Yet he could not bring himself to leave, whether out of em- 
barrassment or interest, and hence was still at the house when his 
mother telephoned him at 2:30 a.m. and sternly ordered him to 
come home at once. Mrs. Keech sensed the powerful effect of this 
126 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

command on the youth and helped him to get started for his 
home immediately. When he was leaving, Mrs. Keech tried to 
console him and increase his attachment to the movement. She 
urged him to be strong and have faith, and to remember that he 
was working to save his whole family — they would all be "taken 
up" because Arthur was one of the chosen. Perhaps this reassured 
him, for he returned to the house during the crucial days just 
before the crisis. 

Kurt Freund was a publisher, who, Marian Keech asserted, was 
interested in issuing her lessons in book form. She had sent him 
some of her lessons during the summer (when the messages were 
urging her to publish) and he had shown much interest. His delay 
in acting, she told us, had been due to Freund's feeling that 
Marian's material, by itself, was "too theoretical," and that he 
wanted to look for a flying saucer expert to collaborate with her, 
so that "more concrete" material could accompany her writings. 
He had visited her during the previous week and Mrs. Keech, 
now totally indifferent to publication, felt he had been "sent" so 
that he, personally, would be "brought to the light." 

Freund sat quietly through most of the Tuesday night meeting 
and appeared to be bored by much of what he heard. He yawned 
a great deal and slept part of the time. During the coffee breaks, 
he was usually engaged in conversation by Dr. Armstrong who 
seemed quite eager to convince the publisher of the validity of 
the belief system. Freund reacted equivocally to these attempts. 
He was interested principally in flying saucers and beUeved un- 
hesitatingly in their interplanetary function. When Dr. Arm- 
strong pressed him on more spiritual matters the publisher replied 
that he had read much modern physics and modem philosophy 
and had been thus persuaded to adopt a "Neoplatonic" position, 
disbelieving in material reality. Further, he added, his experiences 
in dianetics and Scientology had added to this conviction. 

Yet, when the conversation turned to questions of the flood, 
he remarked that he had often had feelings of approaching disas- 
ter, intimations of catastrophe, but that didn't prove anything. 
When one of the observers asked him what he was doing to pre- 

127 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

pare for the catastrophe, he smiled and said: "Nothing." Pressed 
as to whether he believed in the date, he gave an ambiguous 
reply: he had seen many strange things in his life, he said, and 
would not be surprised if a flood occurred. Finally, we noticed 
that, when Mrs. Keech was in the process of getting a "private 
lesson" for him, he was extremely inattentive — even leaving the 
room when she was writing — and seemed more puzzled than 
intrigued by what she produced. Although he returned to the 
group on subsequent occasions, it is our conclusion that he was 
at best suspending his judgment, and at worst a fairly skeptical 
person who maintained his interest for personal motives, best 
known to himself. 

The content of the meeting itself need not occupy us long. It 
consisted largely of replaying, for the assembled audience, several 
tapes that Ella Lowell had recorded in Steel City and CoUegeville. 
These were the tapes in which Dr. Browning stated emphatically 
that the flood was due on the 21st, gave details on saucer pickups, 
instructed everyone to wait at home for his own, personal orders, 
and urged no one to proselyte actively among nonbelievers, but 
to be helpful and informative toward those who came seeking. 

At one point during the meeting, Mrs. Keech read a message 
instructing the group not to celebrate Christmas, not to buy 
presents or sing carols, for this would be "a black Christmas." 
Early in the session she took the precaution of pointing out to 
the audience that, while Dr. Browning spoke from the seventh 
level, Sananda, and he alone, was on the eighth level. The eighth 
was the highest from which any messages had been received, Mrs. 
Keech asserted, ignoring the question of the Creator's level. This 
assertion reinforced Ella Lowell's statements that any order she 
(i.e.. Dr. Browning) might give could be superseded in Lake 
Gty. Mrs. Keech also made something of her acceptance as an 
earthly teacher by Ella Lowell — an incident we have already dis- 
cussed. 

Throughout the meeting of December 14, Bertha was a timid 
and ineffectual reflection of her earlier self. The last person to 
arrive on Tuesday night, she looked wan and tense. She was 
128 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

greeted with great surprise by Edna Post and Daisy Armstrong, 
who seemed not to have expected her, and their welcome was 
warm. Before the tapes were played, both Bertha and Mrs. Keech 
gave "private lessons" (in voice and in writing, respectively) , and 
most members went to both sources. In her consultations with 
our observers, Bertha behaved quite differently from the way she 
had in previous such sessions. To most questions she simply re- 
plied: "Follow your inner knowing," and once went so far as to 
say: "Accept no authority, not even the authority of the Creator." 
During the group meetings, Bertha made three separate attempts 
to direct the activities, but failed each time. Once she gave up 
after a few fumbling sentences; once she failed utterly to gain the 
attention of the audience. Finally, when she tried to persuade 
Mrs. Keech to play a tape that she (Bertha) had made a few days 
earlier, Marian ignored her and Bertha withdrew her suggestion. 

Although she had lost much of her earlier power. Bertha did 
not become a nonentity in the group. Rather, she and Mrs. Keech 
developed a close working relationship. The two women tended 
to "consult" each other's spiritual guides, and to ask each other 
to go to her "source" for "validation" of a message the other had 
received. This cumbersome apparatus was used on any occasion 
when the validity of a message was of crucial importance. 

One of the most striking points made during the meeting was 
the supposed need for secrecy and restriction of information at 
this point in the movement. Mrs. Keech's concern for secrecy 
had grown markedly during the previous week. She had received 
"orders" to destroy all the extra copies of her lessons and certain 
other material relating to the movement; some was to be saved, 
sealed, and placed in a safe place, for Marian felt sure that her 
house was going to be searched by inimical though unspecified 
persons. Much material was burned and what Marian could not 
bring herself to part with was packed into two cardboard cartons 
and sealed. 

Just before the Ella Lowell tapes were played, Mrs. Keech 
warned the group emphatically that no one was to breathe a 
word of what was said on the tapes to anyone outside the group. 

129 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Later, she repeated this warning, adding that if any information 
did leak out, the Guardians would see to it that the tape was 
erased. 

When one of the observers (deliberately) suggested that he 
take notes on the contents for the benefit of one of the absent 
members, Mrs. Keech immediately and flatly rejected the sugges- 
tion. No notes were to be made; if anyone had made notes, he 
or she would have to burn them before leaving the house. At the 
same time, she acknowledged the legitimacy of carrying some 
word of the meeting back to the member. To her questioner she 
said that it would be all right to talk with the absent member 
about the meeting; he would no doubt give the sign (of the 
brotherhood) and that in itself would establish his right to hear 
the news. On several occasions, Mrs. Keech and the Armstrongs 
mentioned "the inner circle." These lessons were not for the pub- 
lic, Mrs. Keech said; they were to be restricted to the inner circle. 

One further development of importance at this meeting was 
the first specific moves toward concrete preparation for the 
evacuation of the chosen before the cataclysm occurred. Early 
in the evening each member present was issued a "passport" (a 
piece of blank stationery and a three-cent stamped envelope) to 
be shown when boarding the flying saucer that would pick him 
up. During the private consultations with Marian Keech, mem- 
bers were also informed of the password ("I left my hat at 
home") to be used on the same occasion. Some members were 
even assigned a numbered seat on a specific saucer. Having 
equipped the sibets with passports and password, fortified their 
belief through Dr. Browning's words, and sworn them all to 
secrecy, Marian Keech brought the meeting to a close at 4:30 
Wednesday morning. 

Such detailed planning for the evacuation signaled the growing 
feeling of the imminence of the disaster. The convinced members 
now awaited evacuation hourly, expecting to be rescued, prepared 
to be picked up at any time. When their thoughts turned from 
preoccupation with the personal future, they felt their kinship 
with ideologically sympathetic groups in other parts of the coun- 
130 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

try. Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong occasionally made reference 
to such groups who, although they had not been "given the 
date," were nonetheless among the chosen. At the same time, the 
members were aware of the existence of some disbelief. Even 
some of the foremost authorities on flying saucers, men who were 
greatly respected in the group, were known to be skeptical about 
December 21. 

The daylight hours following the meeting were quiet. Mark 
Post was ordered to give up the strict diet of nuts on which he 
had been placed several days before. He spent part of the day 
composing a letter to a girl friend in a distant city in which he 
told her their romance was ended as far as he was concerned. 
Since she did not believe in Sananda, Mark felt that he and she 
were not well matched. 

Marian Keech may have spent part of Wednesday considering 
what she would say the following evening when she was sched- 
uled to address an audience in a nearby small city. Certainly the 
engagement had been much on her mind since she had received 
the invitation a week earlier. On December 8 Mrs. Keech received 
a telephone call from the president of the "Northeastern Associa- 
tion on Unidentified Flying Objects" asking if she would consent 
to talk to this "saucer group." Her reaction to this invitation is 
of great interest to us, because it provides an excellent example 
of her feelings and behavior when presented with a splendid op- 
portunity to proselyte an audience she herself had not selected. 

Mrs. Keech's first response to the invitation was to ask the club 
president whether it was "an order" or simply a request, indicat- 
ing her constant and unbounded expectation that her orders from 
the Guardians might appear in any guise and through any outlet. 
The president of the flying saucer club assured her that it was a 
request, and Marian replied that she would think the matter over. 
And think it over she did. During the following days she dis- 
cussed the invitation with Edna, Mark, our two observers in Lake 
City, and the Armstrongs. She looked to each of these people at 
various times for guidance and often asked advice in the now 
standard language of the group: "Do you have any light on 

131 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

whether I should go to the Saucer Club?" On December lo, she 
also asked the question of Bertha — i.e., the Creator. The Creator 
hesitated a moment before replying, then turned the question 
back to Marian, asking what light she had on the invitation. Mrs. 
Keech's reply was that her "inner knowing" told her to accept 
and to read a lesson to the flying saucer club. She then repeated 
her question to the Creator and received the reply that Marian 
would know what to do, through her "inner knowing," when 
the time came. 

In short, Mrs. Keech's reaction to this proselyting opportunity 
was to hesitate, debate, and ask for advice in making the decision 
about acceptance. Her dalliance with the invitation lasted several 
days, during which, it seemed, she either had no desire in the 
matter or was too timid to express it directly. Had the invitation 
been phrased as an "order," she would doubtless have complied 
at once. Phrased as an invitation, it became a matter of grave 
uncertainty. She finally accepted only after her visit to College- 
ville on December 12-13, when Dr. Browning suggested that she 
do so. Even though the time of the cataclysm was but a week or 
so away, Mrs. Keech showed great reluctance to proselyte for 
her beliefs and did so only when a spiritual mentor specifically 
instructed her to do so. 

Of further interest, of course, is how Mrs. Keech used this 
opportunity. The meeting took place on the evening of Decem- 
ber 16, the day on which the news stories of Dr. Armstrong's 
dismissal from the college had appeared. Both he and Mrs. Keech 
had been besieged at her home that morning by reporters from 
all the Lake Qty newspapers and the wire services. By that eve- 
ning they were well aware that they were nationally known fig- 
ures or, at least, would be when the news stories appeared the 
next morning. 

The meeting got under way at 9 p.m. in the private dining 
room of a restaurant, where twenty-five or thirty people had 
assembled. After the chairman had made a few general comments 
that brought the group up to date on the latest saucer news, he 
introduced Airs. Keech. Although she was expected to deliver a 

132 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

talk, she began by suggesting: "Well, why don't we start it out 
with questions? I can wrap it up in ten or fifteen minutes. I would 
rather have it that way." 

For the next forty-five minutes Mrs. Keech answered questions 
from the audience, questions that were concerned mainly with 
how she received messages, the nature of the language in them, 
some of her early experiences. She spent a good deal of time 
explaining the meaning of such words as "sice," "Losolo," and 
"UN." Never once did she mention the prediction of the cata- 
clysm, even though it was due in less than five days. Finally, the 
chairman asked her directly about the prediction. She replied by 
giving a long, detailed account of the circumstances under which 
she had worked with Dr. Armstrong during the late summer, but 
made absolutely no reference to the prophecy, the date, or any 
expectations she had about the future. She simply evaded the 
whole question. 

The chairman excused her and called on Dr. Armstrong. He 

spoke, at most, for five minutes, giving an account of his early inter- 
est in flying saucers and asserting his belief in their interplanetary 
origin. In his closing words, Dr. Armstrong came as close to 
active, public proselyting as anyone had come since the Septem- 
ber press releases. In order to convey the curious flavor of his 
style of "proselyting" we quote here the relevant parts of his talk: 
"I'll say to you that all of you who are interested in saucers are 
in a special category. Now, you don't know that, but you are, 
because it seems that the people around the world who have been 
having a special interest in saucers are people who have had that 
interest because they had something within themselves that goes 
back to things they have forgotten. Therefore there is something 
within you that returned to life. So don't be surprised within the 
next weeks and months ahead, regardless of where you happen to 
find yourself, if you find that you have an unusual experience in 
relation to spacemen or saucers or something of the kind. Because 
I think I can say to you — and it's no secret — that spacemen have 
said that they are here for a purpose and one of those purposes 
is to remove certain of their own people from the earth. 

133 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

"Now, you don't know who they are. Jack over here may be a 
spaceman for all I know. He probably is. You don't know it 
either. You don't know yourself. So I'll give you a little bit of 
the ancient wisdom that was given to me in an old book: 'Know 
thyself for in thee great secrets are hid.' Now we don't know 
who we really are. When we begin to discover and when we 
begin to have the book opened for us, and some of us have had 
that privilege, then we have discovered that we are much greater 
and much more than we think, as we have recently found. 

" 'Know you not that ye are God?' You never thought of your- 
self that way, but that's what you are, Gods in the making. We 
are all in the making. We ourselves are destined to become a part 
of much greater things. So I will say to you, in view of the turn 
of events, begin to ask yourself, why saucers? Will you ask your- 
self why saucers? Why now? Why in my lifetime?" 

The doctor sat down to applause and was thanked, never hav- 
ing referred to the cataclysm or the date on which it was ex- 
pected, or having said anything specific about the future. This 
proselyting, if such it was, can perhaps be best termed "proselyt- 
ing by decree": everyone in the audience was, willy-nilly, de- 
clared by implication to be among the chosen. 

When the chairman attempted to question him directly about 
his "personal plans for the next hours and days," the doctor an- 
swered simply: "I can tell you right now, I don't know." And 
that was that. The meeting broke up shortly thereafter, at lo: 30, 
and the two speakers returned to Mrs. Keech's home exhausted. 
They had spent almost the entire day fending off inquirers, cop- 
ing with questions, and trying to shield their personal beliefs from 
the scrutiny of the world. They had need of rest, for the follow- 
ing day, December 17, was to prove just as tiring as the i6th had. 

The excitement in Lake City had begun early on Thursday 
morning, the i6th, when a reporter and a photographer turned 
up on Mrs. Keech's doorstep shortly before nine o'clock. They 
represented the alert newspaper that had printed the interview 
with Mrs. Keech in September and was now following up the 
announcement of Dr. Armstrong's dismissal — a story that had 

134 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

broken the previous evening. The arrival of these newsmen sig- 
naled the start of one of the most frantically busy and chaotic 
days the house had ever seen. From then on, it was a steady babel 
of telephone calls and rings at the door, with people asking ques- 
tions of Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. Keech. The major newspapers 
in Lake City and the representatives of the wire services sent men 
to the door; more distant newspapers phoned; local representa- 
tives of national news magazines came around; and finally came 
the newscasters and commentators from radio and television sta- 
tions. 

Some reporters were admitted to the house after prolonged and 
insistent effort, but for a long while got no further. Dr. Arm- 
strong fought this intrusion on his privacy; he was a professional 
man, he said, a man concerned with accuracy; he was afraid they 
were too hurried and untrained to do justice to the ideas of the 
movement. He protested that he had wanted to avoid the lime- 
light, but had involuntarily been made "the goat." Finally, he 
added, he didn't want to make a public show of himself. He was 
not a street-comer evangelist; he was not interested in saving the 
world; and he didn't want to persuade anybody to join anything 
—this was not a cult, not a religion. 

He sincerely fought the newsmen for about an hour and some 
of this tenacious breed appeared almost discouraged. Finally, sev- 
eral reporters made remarks, almost threats to the effect that the 
newspaper would publish something about him, and wouldn't he 
rather have them publish the truth than inventions? At this, Dr. 
Armstrong appeared to capitulate. Repeating that he didn't seek 
publicity, he asserted that he felt an obligation toward accuracy 
and therefore would consent to make a statement. He and Mrs. 
Keech flatly refused to permit pictures of themselves or the in- 
terior of the house. They reacted violently when one photogra- 
pher surreptitiously snapped a picture and hurried out of the 
house. They refused to travel downtovm to make a live television 
broadcast and also refused to permit cameras to be brought to 
the house for that purpose. 

Finally, after much persuasion, Dr. Armstrong agreed to record 

135 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

a few remarks for a national network, to be played that evening 
on the regular news broadcast. In all, he gave only one press 
interview and made one half-minute tape for broadcast on Thurs- 
day, both after extremely strong pressure from the newsmen. He 
was polite, and civil, did not lose his temper, but was firm, though 
greatly harassed. Mrs. Keech seemed to pattern her actions closely 
after Dr. Armstrong's, She too finally gave a brief interview to 
the newspapers, but did not make a broadcast tape. 

The news stories on December i6 had been prominently dis- 
played in most newspapers, but had been brief, containing only 
the bare facts of Armstrong's dismissal and the statement that he 
expected "the end of the world" on December 21. In the inter- 
view he gave at Mrs. Keech's home on the 16th, Dr. Armstrong 
tried to correct the erroneous impression that had been splashed 
on so many front pages. He denied that the world would end on 
the 2 1 St, but said that he expected a tidal wave and a displacement 
of the earth's crust "extending from Hudson's Bay to the Gulf 
of Mexico which would seriously affect the center of the United 
States." He explained that the world was "in a mess." "But the 
Supreme Being is going to clean house by sinking all of the land 
masses as we know them now and raising the land masses now 
under the sea. There will be a washing of the world with water. 
Some will be saved by being taken off the earth in space craft." 
He declined to say what he was planning to do in preparation for 
the cataclysm and added: "What changes I am making in my 
life as a result of this prophecy are matters of my personal con- 
viction—not for public explanation." Most stories also carried 
some details about Mrs. Keech's receiving messages from outer 
space, and stated that she had been given the prophecy from the 
planet Clarion. 

Most of the news stories treated the subject straightforwardly, 
quoting or accurately paraphrasing statements by Dr. Armstrong 
or Mrs. Keech and refraining from comment. But the headline 
writers took full advantage of a golden opportunity for ridicule. 
Through their efforts the group of believers were impressed with 
the scoffing and mocking of a skeptical, if not hostile, world. One 

136 



THE LONG WAIT FOR ORDERS 

newspaper, for example, headed their front-page story Tuesday — 
THAT SINKING FEELING, whilc another called its readers' attention 

with WORLD won't END, BUT BOY IT SURE WILL SHAKE. 

Columnists and editorial writers tried invariably to be funny 
at the expense of the group. One gossip columnist began his piece: 
"Had any messages from outer space lately?" while another 
wrote: "When that story first broke about Dr. Thomas Arm- 
strong predicting the 'end of the world on Dec. 21' (later changed 
to a tidal wave engulfing Lake City), comedian Jimmy Edmonson 
put in a hurry-up call: 'Anybody want to buy two on the 50-yard 
line for the Rose Bowl cheap?' " An editorial writer, commenting 
on Mrs. Keech's method of communicating with outer space, 
took the opportunity to ask for a prediction: "For a starter (are 
you listening, Venus?) who is going to be the next mayor of 
Lake City? P.S. If the answer has fins on it, don't bother." 

In succeeding days, the ridicule mounted. Dr. Armstrong and 
Mrs. Keech were both hurt and angry at the press notices that 
belittled them, and became even more reluctant to talk to report- 
ers. They frequently referred to the "unfair" and "distorted" 
accounts of their beliefs. 

Late on Friday morning, December 17, as the newspaper pub- 
licity began to have its effect, a trickle of callers, both in person 
and on the phone, asked for more information and explanation. 
High school students predominated, but there were several adults, 
too, mostly women. There were a small number of practical 
jokers, but a substantial proportion of the callers were sincere, 
although sometimes skeptical. 

The treatment accorded these inquiring souls seemed confused, 
though it was consistent with the established policy of selective 
proselyting. Only the chosen were eligible for instruction, and 
mere curiosity seekers or those who came to jeer were to be 
turned away. How to discriminate between chosen and heathen 
was a matter for one's inner knowing. Whoever answered the 
telephone or the doorbell (usually Mark Post or Dr. Armstrong) 
made a preliminary judgment as to the visitor's sincerity. If they 
"passed" they were sometimes brought in and treated to a brief 

137 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

lecture or had their questions answered. Whoever happened to 
be on deck handled the case, and, if the only available instructor 
was busy with a previous caller, the potential proselytes were 
often left to twiddle their thumbs. There was no plan, no system- 
atic indoctrination, but simply huge, indifferent chaos. Toward 
the middle of the afternoon, when all hands were fatigued, even 
sincere inquirers were sometimes turned away, especially over 
the phone, and told there was nothing to say beyond what had 
appeared in the newspapers. 

Such was the state of the group on Friday afternoon, when the 
first of a series of disconfirmations began. Exposed to a tremen- 
dous burst of publicity, they had made every attempt to dodge 
fame; given dozens of opportunities to proselyte, they had re- 
mained evasive and secretive, and behaved with an almost superior 
indifference. In Dr. Armstrong's words, they "were not trying to 
get anybody into anything." 



138 



CHAPTER V Four Days of 

Very Imminent Salvation 



For Marian Keech and the group around her in Lake City there 
was not just one disconfirmation but a series of them occurring 
over several days. The great flood was due to engulf the city at 
dawn on December 2 1 , but the believers thought that they would 
be rescued before the cataclysm took place. They expected flying 
saucers to land, pick up the chosen ones, and transport them either 
to other planets or to some "safe places" designated by the Gtiard- 
ians. The first disconflrmation occurred on December 1 7, and the 
series came to an end at 5 a.m. on the morning of December 21. 
During this time there were three specific and unequivocal dis- 
confirmations and a strong attack against the key points in the 
ideology. We shall narrate the events of this crucial period in 
some detail. 

Many of the Lake City group had been holding themselves in 
readiness for the pickup for some time now. As far back as De- 
cember 4, it will be recalled, they had gone through the procedure 
of removing all metal from their persons— an act considered es- 
sential before one might safely board a saucer. Thomas Armstrong 
had repeatedly told both the Seekers and the believers in Lake 
City that he was prepared to be picked up at any time, that he 
was on "twenty-four-hour alert" in the service of the Guardians. 
The atmosphere in the group was one of eager expectation. By 
the time they had seen the morning papers on December 17, and 
read the scoflSng comments in the columns, Mrs. Keech and Dr. 
Armstrong were even more ready to be picked up and must have 
wished their rescuers to come as soon as possible and remove them 
from a hostile world. 



139 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Sometime before noon on Friday, December 17, Marian Keech 
received a phone call from a man who told her he was Captain 
Video from outer space. He informed her that a saucer would 
land in her back yard to pick her up at four o'clock that after- 
noon. That, at least, is the message Marian relayed to the others 
in the house — the two Armstrongs, Edna and Mark Post, and a 
new recruit named Manya Glassbaum. The telephone message 
was undoubtedly the work of a practical joker, but the believers 
took it seriously and began to make preparations for the pickup. 
Daisy Armstrong seemed inclined to question the message at first, 
asking her husband and Marian if they were sure someone wasn't 
pulling their legs, but she was immediately and firmly quelled. All 
telephone messages had to be taken seriously, she was told; the 
people of outer space could communicate with the group by 
phone, but often had to use coded messages. 

There is no doubt that the believers really expected a saucer to 
land in the back yard at four o'clock. By noon, all five of the 
regular members of the group had removed every scrap of metal 
from their persons — including zippers, metal clasps, buttons with 
metal backing, bobby pins, and belt buckles. As soon as she ar- 
rived, our observer was put through the metal-removing process 
so that she too would be ready to board the saucer. By i p.m. 
only Manya Glassbaum was wearing or carrying any metal ob- 
ject, for it had not yet been determined whether she was truly 
among the chosen and would be picked up with the others. 

The newest member of the Lake City group, Manya was a girl 
of about eighteen years of age who had been interested in flying 
saucers for some time and was convinced they came from outer 
space. Sometime during the summer she had called on Mrs. Keech 
and learned of her messages and beliefs, but had not seen Mrs. 
Keech again until the latter addressed the meeting of the flying 
saucer club on the previous evening. Manya's interest and belief 
seem to have been aroused by Mrs. Keech's talk on that occasion, 
for she returned to the Keech home and spent the night there. 

On Friday morning, under "orders" from the Guardians, Manya 
telephoned the newspaper where she was employed and quit her 
140 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
job. She also gave up smoking and drinking coffee and seemed 
prepared to accept the further orders that she take up residence 
with Mrs. Keech. In other words, she took the belief system seri- 
ously and was beginning to commit herself to it. It is equally clear 
that Mrs. Keech considered her a promising disciple and Manya's 
status in regard to the expected saucer pickup at four o'clock did 
not long remain in doubt. Toward z p.m. Marian sat for a message 
and received instructions that Manya too was among the chosen, 
and must immediately remove all metal. She had to cut her slip 
apart in order to remove the metal clasps from it, and she ripped 
the zipper out of her skirt. 

From then on the group waited restlessly for four o'clock, 
while they coped almost absent-mindedly with some jobs that 
were fast becoming routine. The press was still eager for more 
information and telephoned frequently. Mark Post, who had been 
deputized to handle such inquiries, gave newsmen a standard "No 
comment," and shut off further questions by hanging up. The 
lone reporter (from a national news magazine) who braved this 
refusal and called at the house personally did finally gain entrance, 
but could not prod any information out of any of the members. 
In a short while she left, discouraged and rather angry at being 
ignored so positively. A truck with television cameras waited in 
the street outside but the prohibition against any pictures was still 
in force, and no cameramen were allowed in the house. The be- 
lievers were still angry at the photographer who had surrepti- 
tiously snapped a picture of Mrs. Keech the day before. 

Mrs. Keech's home address had been printed in the morning 
editions and there were other callers besides the press. Those who 
telephoned to ask questions were told by Mark Post that all the 
available information was in the newspaper stories. If the caller 
persisted and was, in Mark's judgment, sincere, he was told he 
could call at the house in person if he felt he needed to know 
more. A large number of people, half of them in their teens or 
very early twenties, came directly to the house, where they were 
screened at the doorstep by Mark or Thomas Armstrong. Many 
were turned away, but between ten and fifteen were admitted, 

141 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

among them two adult women to whom most of Mrs. Keech's 
time was devoted. The others got scant attention from anyone, 
many being ignored while they sat almost begging to be pros- 
elyted. The relatively slight interest that most members had in 
making converts at this point had been even further reduced by 
their preoccupation with their four o'clock appointment. 

Four o'clock finally came and the chosen ones gathered in the 
kitchen with their coats, simply walking out on whatever visitors 
there happened to be in the living room at the time. Mrs. Keech 
was ecstatic. Hardly able to stand still, she ran between the back 
porch and the kitchen window, her eyes turned up to the sky. 
The others caught her excitement and joined in the scanning. For 
ten minutes they continued their search while the tension mounted. 
Then, abruptly, Marian removed her coat and, instructing the 
others to keep watch, returned to the living room. After a brief 
interval, the Armstrongs abandoned their stations too — Daisy to 
go out for a walk. Dr. Armstrong to retire to the attic. Only the 
Posts and Manya Glassbaum remained on duty. 

By 5:30 they too gave up and returned to the living room. 
There was almost no discussion of the matter among the believers. 
Our observer waited until the house was empty of visitors to ask 
Mrs. Keech why the saucers had not come. But Marian refused 
to discuss the topic, and none of the others in the living room 
seemed interested in the question either. Instead, Marian sat for 
a message and received one that made her weep because it bore 
such glad tidings. Sananda informed her that when the group was 
picked up she would return to "the Father's house" and need not 
come back to earth again. The rest of the group expressed their 
happiness for her and began to discuss questions of their joint 
future in higher density space. 

The message had the effect of reaffirming Marian's importance 
and the validity of her messages, as well as diverting thinking from 
the disconfirmation that had just occurred, but the diversion suc- 
ceeded only temporarily. By the time the group had eaten dinner 
the disconfirmation was clearly on their minds again. Mrs. Keech 
turned the television set to the Captain Video program and in- 
141 



FOtJR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

structed the company to watch carefully for coded messages 
intended for them — she was sure there would be one on the pro- 
gram. But no one detected any such message and the problem 
once again disappeared into uneasy silence. 

The group could not abandon the matter completely, however, 
and soon various members were suggesting explanations for the 
failure of the saucers to appear that afternoon. One suggestion 
was that the presence of strangers, nonmembers of the group, in 
the house had caused the spacemen to veer off. This possibility 
was discussed with interest for a time but was clearly unsatisfying. 
A few other suggestions were advanced, but the one the group 
agreed upon in the end was that the afternoon incident had been 
an alert. The saucers would indeed land when the time was ripe, 
but everyone had to be well trained, "well-drilled actors," so that 
when the real time arrived, things would go smoothly. The space- 
men were not testing their faithfulness, but were simply unwilling 
to leave any possibility that their human allies would make a mis- 
take. The four o'clock watch had been a practice session. 

This explanation was more satisfying to the members but did not 
completely eliminate their disappointment. When another of the 
observers arrived at the house about 9 p.m., he found Mrs. Keech 
still quite upset. She told him about the events of the afternoon 
and concluded with a complaint: while she and the rest of the 
group were trying to do their best, it almost seemed as if the 
spacemen were deliberately trying to mix them up. She said she 
had almost called on the Clarionites to come on down and 
straighten things out. 

The disconiirmation was sufficient to disillusion one person, 
however. Until it happened, Manya Glassbaum had been planning 
to stay on at the Keech house. But that evening she received a 
phone call from a boy friend and, without consulting anyone, 
asked him to come out to see her. Marian was quite disturbed by 
Manya's action, but she could not prevent the visit. The boy came 
to the house, and about eleven o'clock he and Manya left, pre- 
sumably to get a coke. Manya never returned. The newest con- 

'43 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

vert with the least commitment had been lost, shaken loose by the 
first disconfirmation. 

That evening there were more visitors, people who came out 
of curiosity, interest, or belief — drawn there by the newspaper 
stories. One of them provided strong support for the beliefs of 
the group. He was a seventeen-year-old boy who had driven over 
from his home several miles away, arriving late in the evening. In 
an excited manner he said that he wanted to speak alone to Dr. 
Armstrong. The doctor had a private conversation with the boy 
for a while and then summoned Marian to join them. 

After the boy left, Marian and Thomas told the others what 
tidings the boy had brought. They said he had been sitting in 
the bathroom reading about the prophecy in the newspaper when 
suddenly a voice said to him, "You don't believe that, do you?" 
He had looked up to find a strange man in a gray jacket standing 
in front of him. The man had continued: "Well, it's true and you 
don't have to worry. You will be picked up." 

Whether this boy was deluded or was playing a practical joke, 
the fact remains that his story was received as "independent" veri- 
fication of their beliefs. It probably helped the group to recover 
from the four o'clock disconfirmation and perhaps precipitated 
the next prediction, a matter we shall get to shortly. 

From about lo that evening until 11:30, between twenty and 
twenty-five people visited the Keech house. They were mostly 
high school teen-agers, with a sprinkling of boys from a nearby 
junior college and three university students home on vacation. 
The visitors arrived intermittently, usually in groups of three or 
four, and were seated in the living room where Dr. Armstrong 
and Mrs. Keech expounded at length on their beliefs and on the 
prophecy. Some of the inquirers offered counter-arguments and 
the discussion of controversial points was very lively. 

The change in the attitude of the two protagonists toward in- 
quirers was noticeable: no longer were they indifferent or pre- 
occupied with other matters. Rather they made pointed and 
deliberate attempts to persuade and convince. This change may 
have been a reaction to the four o'clock disconfirmation, although 
144 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

it is difficult to judge because the only comparable period before 
the disconfirmation was the few hoiu^ that very morning and 
early afternoon when similar callers had been attracted by news- 
paper stories. In any case Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. Keech engaged 
in proselyting until the last visitors left at about n : 30. The house 
became relatively quiet again, but the believers were not allowed 
to rest, for the Guardians, it shortly became apparent, had further 
plans for them. 

Toward 11:30 our observers had to leave the house on an er- 
rand. One of them returned about an hour later to find that at 
midnight Mrs. Keech had received a message of the greatest im- 
portance: that a flying saucer was even then on its way to her 
back yard to pick up the chosen, and it would not wait for any- 
one who was not ready. There must have been an intense flurry 
of preparation as the group struggled to meet this sudden dead- 
line. The story is best told in the words of the observer: 

"I came back to the house about 12:30. The front door was 
unlocked. The lights were on. The house was empty. I went up- 
stairs and looked around. There was no sign of a soul in the house. 
When I returned downstairs Mark Post came in the back door 
and said, 'Do you have any metal on you?' I said I did not and 
he then told me to come with him. 

"We went out in the back yard. It was cold and snowing and 
the ground was very wet. Marian, Daisy, Thomas, and Edna were 
all there. Marian told me about the message and asked me again 
about metal. She wanted to know about my shoes and Edna said 
I would have to take my shoes off because they had nails in them. 

"Mark came back in the house with me. I took my shoes off 
and Mark started to rip the heels from the shoes. I stopped him 
and said, 'Don't do that. Just get me a couple of pairs of wool 
socks and some bedroom slippers.' He did this and then pointed 
out that the buttons on my suit did have metal on them. I ripped 
the buttons off my coat. 

"We got back outside again and Edna took me aside and said, 
'How about your brassiere? It has metal clasps, doesn't it?' I went 
back in the house and took my brassiere off. The only metal on 

145 



WHEN PROPHECY FAH^S 

me was the fillings in my teeth and I was afraid someone would 
mention those. We all proceeded to wait, standing at the side of 
the garage. Marian told us to keep our voices doAvn and be quiet 
so the reporters wouldn't come around. I said that they were too 
lazy to be up at this hour of the night, Marian replied that was 
not so. If they heard about this they would be out there with 
spotlights to take pictures for movies and television. We had to 
avoid that at all costs. Mark supported her by telling me that re- 
porters had, for example, awakened Qeo at 5 a.m. one morning. 

"At about I A.M. Marian started saying that she was very cold. 
She added that if they all wanted her to go into the house and get 
a message, she would do it. She emphasized that she would do it 
only if they all wanted her to. She was getting very cold and tired 
but did not want to herself take the responsibility for going in- 
doors. Everyone urged her to go in and get a message. She then 
said, 'All right. I'll go in and get a message. If I blink the light 
that means you're to come back in, that it's a test.' I firmly ex- 
pected her to go in, blink the lights, and we'd all go back indoors. 
But she came back in fifteen minutes and told us we were to stay 
out in the back yard. The flying saucer would arrive to pick us 
up within the hour. 

"We waited outdoors until 2 ajm. The group was quite gay and 
elated with anricipation. There was quite a bit of lightning in the 
sky, and Thomas kept saying that these were signals. Then Marian 
said that she saw a bright spot of light hovering around the chim- 
ney. The light, she said, would come and go. 

"There was great anticipation and also a great deal of cold. We 
were shivering and pounding our feet. Dr. Armstrong was doing 
calisthenics. At two o'clock we couldn't stand the cold any longer 
and Mark suggested that we open the garage doors, tiun on the 
motor of the car and sit in the car until we warmed up a bit. The 
four women got in the car while Mark and Dr. Armstrong con- 
tinued to stand watch out in the yard. 

"In the car Marian started to write another message. It was ex- 
ceedingly long. The first half of the message consisted of repeated 
blessings to those who are patient and disciplined. Those who 
146 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

were patient and disciplined would be rewarded. The rest of the 
message boiled down to saying that we were to go back and rest 
and that, at the proper time (unspecified) a man would come to 
lead us to the place where we would be picked up. 

"We got back into the house at about twenty minutes past 
three in the morning. Marian talked a lot about whether we were 
or were not well-drilled actors and referred to the experiences of 
the day as drills and basic training." 

So much for the events of the night. Three hours of uncom- 
fortable but hopeful waiting had ended in just another disappoint- 
ment, although outward signs of disturbance over the failure of 
the saucers to come were not obvious. The watchers made only 
a sketchy attempt to explain the disconfirmation that night. Ex- 
hausted and nearly frozen, they went to bed at once, and the 
matter was not fully discussed until several hours later, after 
breakfast. Even then they were unable to devise a more satisfying 
explanation of the events of the night. It had been a drill, a re- 
hearsal, an exercise in discipline, they decided. But this rationaliza- 
tion did not suffice, for they had been too convinced, too eager 
to believe beforehand that the midnight alert was "the real thing." 
They found no way of adequately handling this uncomfortable 
disappointment— instead they kept it a secret. 

Sometime during the morning, Mrs. Keech received orders in- 
structing all those who had been present on the midnight vigil 
to be extremely cautious and discreet in talking about what had 
happened. When the observer who had been present returned to 
the house after a brief absence, she was immediately informed of 
these orders and warned to be careful to whom she talked. When 
one of the authors, who had theretofore been able to obtain in- 
formation from Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong quite readily, 
arrived at the house in the early afternoon and asked to be brought 
up to date on recent events, no one in the group volunteered even 
the slightest reference to the midnight vigil. It was only after ex- 
tensive probing and pointed inquiry about what had happened 
the night before that he was told they had been on a saucer watch 
from midnight to 3:30 a.m. The matter was passed off casually as 

147 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

"just a drill." Except for this reluctant and belittling account, the 
watch party kept secrecy well. The other two authors were not 
told anything voluntarily, and when one of them attempted to 
quiz Mark Post, the latter replied simply that he was under orders 
not to talk. Even Bertha, the voice of the Creator, was told noth- 
ing. The whole affair was hushed up. 

Secrecy was not the only reaction to the disconfirmation fol- 
lowing the vigil of Friday night, for there was also an apparent 
need for group support. On Saturday morning Marian Keech re- 
ceived messages ordering her to gather together all the members 
of the group, and Mark spent a great deal of the morning at the 
telephone. He called all the believers in the local area, and put 
through iong-distance calls to summon Qyde Wilton from his 
home, Cleo Armstrong and Bob Eastman from Collegeville, and 
the three authors from Minneapolis. By noon his task was done 
and there was promise of a good gathering for the meeting that 
night. 

By Saturday afternoon, the influx of visitors to the house had 
not only grown in size, but also in importance and significance 
in the eyes of the believers. The general attitude of the group 
toward the newspapers was still negative. They tried to discour- 
age reporters from coming to the house and "No comment" was 
still the answer to newsmen over the phone. But the believers 
were beginning to see the advantages of publicity in bringing 
people to the house whom they could attempt to persuade and 
convert. Edna and Daisy pointed out that the newspaper stories 
had had one good effect at any rate — they had alerted people. 
Thomas Armstrong, who had probably suffered most from his 
publicity, seemed cheerier than he had been about the matter: 
"Just imagine," he exclaimed, "if a guy had a million dollars he 
couldn't buy this kind of pubhcity." Dr. Armstrong even began 
to take an optimistic view of his success in proselyting. He told 
one of the observers that at least one of the young people who 
had been there the previous evening had walked out because the 
truth he was told had offended his prejudices but had returned in 
the morning — a significant change of heart, the doctor felt. 
148 



FOXJR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

On Saturday afternoon, the members of the group began lec- 
turing to visitors in a more serious and organized way. The in- 
struction of teen-agers was turned over to Mark Post, who spent 
most of his afternoon with groups of four to six of them. Thomas 
Armstrong and Marian Keech devoted most of their energies to 
the adults who called and would often spend a long time in pri- 
vate consultation with those whom they considered "special cases." 
Their technique of proselyting is well illustrated by one of these, 
a thirty-five-year-old technical sergeant in the United States Air 
Force, who arrived at the house about 4:30 in the afternoon 
after having telephoned for an appointment. 

Marian took him and one of the authors up to the attic with 
her, where she proceeded to describe the history of her messages, 
the prediction of the cataclysm, and the reasons it was being vis- 
ited on the world. For more than an hour and a half she lectured 
to the sergeant, then told him to go home and meditate, pray, 
and wait for "awakening." She told him he could come back later 
if he wanted to and if he thought he needed "more light." The 
sergeant departed, somewhat baffled, with many of his questions 
unanswered, and never did return. It was ineffective proselyting, 
but the incident illustrates the time and energy being devoted to 
such activity at this time. 

Not all callers got the same amount of attention, of course, and 
there was still some selectivity in admitting people to the house, 
though a smaller proportion were turned away on Saturday than 
had been the case on previous days. At one point Marian even 
instructed Mark and Dr. Armstrong not to send away anyone 
who was really interested. The need for social support following 
the disconfirmation on Friday was very strong. 

By six o'clock the stream of visitors had dwindled, the phone 
rang less frequently, and the household settled down somewhat. 
More members began arriving for the evening meeting — Bertha, 
Kurt Freund, and Arthur Bergen from their homes in the area, 
Cleo Armstrong and Bob Eastman from Collegeville. Clyde Wil- 
ton telephoned to say that he had been unable to get a plane, but 
would arrive by train the following morning, and by 7: 30, every- 

149 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

one who was coining had arrived. The meeting did not get under 
way at once, however. Marian Keech seemed preoccupied and 
expectant; she was called to the phone several times and after 
these conversations would sometimes talk privately to Dr. Arm- 
strong, while the rest of the members stood about in small clusters 
making desultory conversation and wondering what the evening 
would bring. All were aware of the atmosphere of expectancy 
and there was considerable restlessness. Both Arthur Bergen and 
Mark Post were very tense, and several times remarked that they 
wished they knew what everyone was waiting for. No one knew, 
except Marian and perhaps Dr. Armstrong and they were not 
telling. All through that day Marian had been receiving a series 
of telephone calls which were a prelude to an important visit that 
night — a visit that turned out to be a major attack on the belief 
system. 

The meeting finally got under way, but there was nothing to 
meet about, and it proceeded haltingly. The Creator started to 
speak but soon ran out of inspiration and instructed Marian to 
write. Marian wrote and asked the Creator to validate messages. 
The phone rang frequently, interrupting the meeting, because 
Mrs. Keech frequently took these calk in the privacy of her bed- 
room. While she was out of the room, the rest of the group sat in 
uneasy silence, waiting her return, waiting for the unknown event 
that would make that night unlike any other night. 

Between telephone calls, Mrs. Keech received one message that 
needs detailed description, in view of what we know about the 
events of the preceding night and the secrecy in which they had 
been shrouded. At about lo: 30, she received a rather long com- 
munique from Sananda that repeatedly emphasized one point: "I 
[Sananda] have never been tardy; I have never kept you waiting; 
I have never disappointed you in anything." Marian read the mes- 
sage aloud and further emphasized it by holding it up for every- 
one to see — a highly unusual procedure. Looking around the 
room she stated solemnly: "They assure me that so far not a sin- 
gle part of the plan has gone wrong, not a plan has gone astray." 
150 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
Edna Post made the perfect response: "That's because we have 
such good planners." 

Marian Keech was trying to bolster her belief. The disconfir- 
mation following the midnight vigil still bothered her. In spite of 
the influx of visitors that afternoon and the requests for informa- 
tion over the phone; in spite of the ready response of the absent 
members to her invitation for that evening; in spite of the explana- 
tion, in which she concurred, that the midnight watch had been 
a drill, she still felt the gnawing discomfort of a prediction not 
fulfilled. It had been difficult to reinforce her beliefs while main- 
taining close secrecy about the events of the night before. The 
message from Sananda reassured her as it probably did some of 
the others who had watched with her, and raised her hopes again 
— high hopes that events later this very night would verify her 
expectation that the group of believers would be picked up by 
saucers. For that very night she was expecting spacemen, and per- 
haps Sananda himself, to visit her house. 

Late that evening, Saturday, December 1 8, while the group was 
killing time in the living room listening to an old Ella Lowell tape, 
five young men in their late teens sought admission to the house. 
They spent more than two hours in the house that night and their 
visit had so great an impact on the group of believers that it mer- 
its a full description. Why these young men called at the house, 
what their purpose was, and who they were — these are things 
we do not know; they may have been practical jokers, or they 
may have had a serious purpose. Whatever their intention, they 
launched a vigorous attack against the ideology and the prophecy 
of cataclysm, bringing to a climax that night what was evidently 
a fairly systematic plan to shake Mrs. Keech's convictions. To tell 
the story coherently, we must go back in time, and begin with 
the day that Dr. Armstrong's dismissal from his job was headlined 
in the newspapers. 

That day, December i6, saw the beginning of a series of tele- 
phone calls to Mrs. Keech from two young men who told her 
that they were from the planet Clarion. That night, when Mrs. 
Keech returned from her talk to the flying saucer club, she found 

151 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

on her television set a note: "We were here but you were not." 
It was signed "The Boys from Qarion." The telephone calls from 
these same two "spacemen" continued throughout Friday, the i yth, 
while Mrs. Keech's conviction grew that her callers really were 
from outer space and really had visited her home the previous 
evening. Her excitement over this evidence was matched only by 
her willingness to accept the orders that her callers began to issue. 

On Saturday, the i8th, the calls became more frequent as well 
as more authoritative. Early that afternoon, one of the "boys from 
Clarion," intimating that he was Sananda himself, commanded 
Marian to sit for messages every hour on the hour — messages that 
he would later "verify" by phone, he said. She followed these in- 
structions to the letter, even asking one of the observers to be 
sure to remind her every hour, so she would be ready to write at 
exactly the specified times. Between three and four o'clock she 
received a particularly long telephone call which she took pri- 
vately in the bedroom. She emerged with tears in her eyes, sob- 
bing joyously: "He is coming. He is coming." 

And come he did that night with four companions. There was 
a momentary confusion over whether or not this band should be 
turned away, but as soon as Marian recognized their leader and 
heard his voice, her hesitation vanished. She swept them into the 
room and stood ready for their commands. Their leader, a twenty- 
year-old youth, asked to talk with Dr. Armstrong privately, and 
did so for nearly half an hour. Then it was Marian's turn, and she 
spent almost twice as long closeted with the five "spacemen." 

The reactions of the rest of the members, milling about the liv- 
ing room, were mixed. Thomas Armstrong had emerged from his 
interview smiling, almost grinning with admiration. They were 
spacemen, all right, or as he put it, "some of the boys from up- 
stairs." They had really put him through a quiz; he had never 
dealt with such brilliant minds, he said. He had penetrated their 
disguise as earthlings as soon as they walked in the door, he ex- 
plained, but their superhuman minds were something to behold. 
Their visit was in the nature of a test, the doctor said, a check on 
whether he and Marian could give them the right answers. At 

J52 



FOXJR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

that very moment, he added, the spacemen were "trying to get 
Marian to retract. They're trying to get her to take back all the 
things she's been saying. They say it's all mixed up and false. It's 
a check all right." 

Edna Post was equally sure the visitors had come from outer 
space. Almost ecstatically she informed one of the observers that, 
while she had missed seeing the sice at Lyons field, tonight she 
had been alert enough to recognize Sananda. Edna's joy was un- 
bounded. Daisy Armstrong and Mark Post also seemed excited 
and pleased, and it was clear they recognized these boys as space- 
men. May and Frank Novick, on the other hand, were simply 
confused, as were Kurt Freund and Arthur Bergen. They did not 
know who the boys were or what was going on. Qeo Armstrong 
and Bob Eastman were highly skeptical — to them the fivesome 
looked like "a bunch of kids trying to put on a front." 

Before she had gone into the adjoining room for her private 
talk with the "spacemen," Marian Keech had made clear her con- 
viction of their identity. She pointed out to an observer that "the 
Guest" had arrived, and when the observer reminded her of the 
hour, as he had been doing since early afternoon, she turned to 
him almost in amazement: "We don't need that any more," she 
said; "we've made the contact now." As she waited expectantly 
for her turn to talk to these boys, her joy almost matched Edna's. 

But when she reappeared in the living room after nearly an 
hour of being "checked," she was visibly shaken. She stood weep- 
ing near the door of the room where the boys were getting ready 
to leave the house, her frail body turned to the wall and her fists 
clenched at her sides. The visitors started to go out, but Marian 
would not let them go. Deeply shaken but unable to give up, she 
shepherded the boys back into the bedroom where all six re- 
mained in consultation for another half-hour. 

When they had finished, and the boys had departed, Marian 
stood silently in the living room, wrapped in thought but appar- 
ently having recovered from her shock. To the group of believers 
who gathered around her she began to describe the conversations 
she had had with the "boys from Clarion": 

'53 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

"They kept forcing me to take back things. He kept trying to 
pressure me into saying they were not true. They kept telling 
me that what I had said was all false and mixed up. And they told 
me that they were in contact with outer space too and all the 
writings I had were wrong and that everything I was predicting 
was wrong." 

She described how shocked she had been by this attack, how 
they had mixed her up till she scarcely knew what to say. She had 
been on the point of walking out on her tormentors, but then she 
had become angry and counterattacked in these words: "You 
can't make me do that, I'm not going to take any of it back. 
There is a Judas here. There is a Judas in this room. You have 
been sent here to try to confuse me and upset me. I was upset 
but I'm not any more. I know what you're trying to do." 

Their reply to this outburst, Mrs. Keech asserted, was concil- 
iatory. They had told her that they had indeed come to test her 
and, if she passed the test, then to reassure her and support her, 
which they proceeded to do. The trial had ended on a note of 
triumph for Marian. 

We know the details of Mrs. Keech's conversations with the 
spacemen only through her own recital of what happened. How 
much of what she reported actually took place is hard to say, al- 
though one of our observers was told independently by one of 
the visitors that he and his friends had been in contact with peo- 
ple from outer space for three years and he was sure that ninety 
per cent of Marian's writings were wrong. Thus we have inde- 
pendent evidence of the attack on her beliefs, but we have only 
Marian's word about the subsequent reassurance. In any event, 
Marian seemed to need more reassurance than she had got from 
the visitors, and she proceeded to stimulate support from the 
group of believers. 

She began to reiterate her reasons for believing that the boys 
really had come from outer space. As soon as they had entered 
the house she had felt the force of their superhuman personalities, 
their strength, their intelligence. She pointed out that they had 
known things about her messages and about recent events in the 

154 



rOWL DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
group that only spacemen would know. She was sure they were 
saucer pilots. Dr. Armstrong, his wife, and Edna joined the chorus 
of assent, agreeing fully with Marian and adding observations and 
inferences of their own. Edna and Daisy pointed out that three 
of the visitors looked exactly alike, while Mark and Edna said 
that the spacemen had refused earthly nourishment. 

Cleo seemed rather skeptical of their conclusions and Bob East- 
man said nothing, but it was Kurt Freund who most clearly 
sounded a note of dissent. In a rather low voice he remarked: "I 
must say I saw nothing." No one paid the slightest attention to 
him (except an observer) and he repeated his statement in a loud 
voice. Marian asked him what he meant and he replied: "They 
just looked like college kids to me. It looked as though they just 
came here for a lark." Marian smiled pityingly at him and no one 
paid him further heed. The flood of confirming and supporting 
detail continued. The interpretation of the visit was rapidly be- 
coming a settled question and the group was waxing enthusiastic 
about it. The representatives from outer space had come, and sub- 
jected them to the supreme test and they had passed. 

Whereupon Marian, with sparkling eyes, exclaimed excitedly, 
"At this point I think I deserve a standing vote of confidence." 
At this almost everyone stood up and several cried that Marian 
had their full confidence. Kurt Freund, Cleo Armstrong, and Bob 
Eastman were conspicuously slow to join in this standing vote, 
but the others were enthusiastic. The overt support of most of 
the group brought discussion of the episode to a close. A chal- 
lenging attack on the ideology had been turned into confirmatory 
support. Later in the evening the group was reminded of that by 
Marian: "Remember," she said, "we have passed an important test 
tonight. Don't forget it." 

The net result of this attack on the belief system and the proph- 
ecy was to strengthen conviction. Furthermore, it seems probable 
that this episode finally enabled the group to recover from the 
effects of the Friday night disconfirmation. In effect, the space- 
men had come. It was simply that they had come Saturday night 
instead of Friday night. 

155 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

On Sunday morning, in contrast to the secrecy of the day be- 
fore, those who had been on the midnight vigil on Friday spoke 
freely about the period of waiting in the yard for the saucer. But 
they spoke about it briefly and as a prelude to the wonderful and 
exciting events of Saturday night. When one of the observers 
reached the house at about 9 a.m. on Sunday, and again when 
Clyde Wilton arrived later that morning, Mrs. Keech narrated 
the happenings of the previous two days in some detail. She ex- 
plained that she had received a number of phone calls from "the 
boys from Clarion" and reported the message she had received 
about the promised visit of the saucer on Friday night. Laugh- 
ingly, she described how the watchers had stood out in the yard, 
almost frozen, for two or three hours, adding about the Guard- 
ians: "I'm not laughing at them, I'm laughing with them." She 
gave a glowing account of the Saturday night visitation, empha- 
sizing how the spacemen had tried to force her to retract her 
teachings and how, when she refused to do so, they told her they 
had been testing her faith. They had been sent to see whether or 
not she would "sell her belief," she said; at this point she felt she 
had been tested as much as Christ had been. 

Although the visit of the "spacemen" bolstered the faith of 
most members, two people were disaffected. May and Frank 
Novick, who had come to the house that night at Marian's urging, 
left shortly before the boys from Qarion departed. Neither of 
them ever returned. Their connection with the group had been 
growing weaker; they did not attend the December 13 meeting, 
for example, and May had broken off contact with Bertha. Frank 
had probably never been much of a believer and his appearance 
on Saturday night was undoubtedly out of deference to May's 
wishes. It seems highly likely that the events they witnessed on 
Saturday night, as interpreted by the skeptical Frank, helped 
persuade May to sever her connection completely. 

The next day, Sunday, was a day of waiting. The believers 
marked time while the stream of visitors continued and the con- 
stant ringing of the phone brought more requests for information 
about the flood, about how the inquirer could save himself and 
156 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
his family from disaster, about why Mrs. Keech was so sure there 
would be a cataclysm and how she had received the warning. 
From late in the morning till ten or eleven o'clock that night, the 
house was never empty of visitors and rarely was a believer unoc- 
cupied in expounding doctrine, attempting to persuade a skeptic, 
or defending the belief system against a challenger. 

There was still selectivity about who was admitted to the 
house: those who were considered sincere were allowed to enter 
while obvious jokers and scoffers were turned away. But one new 
feature appeared in the proselyting approach: a marked tendency 
to assume that everyone who got into the house was one of the 
chosen and would be saved. Whether he asked for reassurance or 
not, the caller who gained the living room was informed that he 
was probably among the elect, and it was pointed out that the 
very fact he had come to "seek the light" was the best evidence 
of his having been "chosen" by the Guardians. This appeal was 
often the basis for trying to convince people that they ought to 
believe. 

The other fact worth noting about the atmosphere on Sunday 
afternoon was the growing concern about holding the group to- 
gether, especially on the part of Marian Keech. Several times dur- 
ing the afternoon she mentioned the absence of certain members — 
Bertha, Kurt Freund, Arthur Bergen, and several of the observers 
(who were getting some much-needed rest) and commented that 
now was the time to stick together, now, above all, there ought 
to be a "strong group." The group and the support it offered 
were evidently very important, and the slightest sign of disinte- 
gration or defection was painful to those who remained behind. 
Qyde Wilton had made plans to return to his home on Monday 
and this fact bothered Mrs. Keech a great deal. She finally re- 
ceived a message sanctioning his departure and telling him to 
gather together three families with his own on the fateful night 
that was so near at hand. The need to hold the group together 
may have been intensified by the knowledge of several probable 
defectors: Manya, who had not been heard from for two days, 
and Frank and May Novick, who had shown no intention of re- 

157 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

turning. Throughout the afternoon Marian's concern over the 
absentees increased and she finally became rather annoyed at them 
— a mood that passed instantly when several turned up in the 
early evening. 

Some group members did not share Marian's concern. Cleo con- 
tinued to contest her father's view that telephone calls from 
"Captain Video" or from unnamed "Martians" should be taken 
seriously. At one point she complained that a message Marian had 
received for her was "nonsense" and "asinine." Bob moped about 
the house, taking occasional part in the proselyting, but usually 
preserving a disgruntled silence. Between the doubts planted in 
them by Ella Lowell before they left CoUegeville and their re- 
luctance to swallow many of the interpretations of events they 
had witnessed in Lake Qty, Cleo and Bob were not in a con- 
vinced frame of mind. 

Kurt Freund too showed signs that he was not fully convinced, 
though he was not outspokenly doubtful. He sat around much of 
the time in an almost aloof silence, and seemed to prefer talking 
about general issues of space travel, or psychic communication, 
rather than specific items in the belief system of the group such 
as the flood itself. From his occasionally questioning, occasionally 
skeptical remarks one got the impression that he was not con- 
vinced that the cataclysm would take place. 

The rest of the group, however, showed no lack of conviction. 
They worked at proselyting or at household chores, or they sim- 
ply waited for the hours to pass until they would be rescued. But 
they did not torture themselves with doubt that the flood might 
not come. 

At about ten o'clock on the morning of December 20, Marian 
Keech received a message for the whole group. It read: 

"At the hour of midnight you shall be put into parked cars and 
taken to a place where ye shall be put aboard a porch [flying 
saucer] and ye shall be purposed by the time you are there. At 
that time you shall have the fortuned ones forget the few who 
have not come — and at no time are they to be called for, they 
are but enacting a scene and not a person who should be there 

158 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
will fail to be there and at the time you are to say 'What is your 
question?' . . . and at no time are you to ask what is what and 
not a plan shall go astray and for the time being be glad and be 
fortuned to be among the favored. And be ye ready for further 
instructions . . . Beleis." 

This was the message everyone had been waiting for and it had 
come none too soon, for before another dawn the whole of Lake 
City was to be flooded. But the chosen would be safe. In just 
fourteen hours they would at last be picked up by flying saucers 
and whisked away. All the arrangements had been made and spe- 
cific further instructions would be forthcoming. 

This message brought a great release of tension to the believers. 
This was it. Now they knew what was to happen and when. Now 
they could wait easily and comfortably for midnight. They re- 
laxed, and spent the day in peaceful idleness. Marian rested a great 
deal, while Thomas and Daisy Armstrong spent most of the day 
simply sitting — not tensely as they had done, but calmly. Some 
of the others read or played cards. When Arthur Bergen arrived 
late in the afternoon and told the group his mother had threatened 
to call the police if he were not home by two o'clock the follow- 
ing morning, the believers smilingly assured him that he need not 
worry — by that time they would all be aboard a saucer. 

The believers treated their visitors calmly too. As on the previ- 
ous day, most callers were assured that they were among the 
chosen and had nothing to worry about. They were simply to go 
back home and, wherever they might be, they would be picked 
up. But today the believers seemed more certain of what they said 
— and less frantic in saying it. Now that they had specific orders 
their proselyting too had become calmer. 

The day passed uneventfully while the believers gathered for 
their final earthly session. Bertha Blatsky had arrived early in the 
morning, Arthur Bergen in the afternoon. Two observers were 
present during most of the day and three more joined them in the 
early evening. Kurt Freund arrived shortly after 9 p.m. Together 
with the seven people who were currently living in the house — 
the three Armstrongs, Bob Eastman, the two Posts, and Marian, 

159 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

there were fifteen people in the living room when preparations 
for departure began to be made. Only Mrs. Keech's husband was 
missing. He had apparently decided the vigil was not for him and 
had retired early to his bedroom in the rear of the house. 

Shortly after 9: 30 there began a meeting conducted jointly by 
Marian (writing messages from Sananda) and Bertha (speaking 
with the voice of the Creator). The proceedings were extremely 
formal and were executed with painstaking correctness. Marian 
would write a message, read it off, and ask the Creator to verify 
it — or the Creator would speak and request verification in writ- 
ing from Sananda. Verification was usually forthcoming, but, 
clearly, both Bertha and Marian felt a trifle uncertain of them- 
selves and were extremely anxious that there be no mistakes or 
misinterpretations this night. 

The telephone rang sporadically as reporters tried to learn how 
the believers were spending the eve of the flood, but such calls 
were terminated very quickly: "No comment. We have noth- 
ing for you now. Leave your number and if we have anything 
for you later we will call you." Other callers were equally quickly 
silenced, no matter what their inquiry was. Clearly, the believers 
had their orders now and nothing was allowed to interfere with 
the meticulous "verification" of each step of preparation for the 
midnight departure. 

During the day Mrs. Keech had received additional instructions 
and, one by one, these too were "verified" and "clarified." The 
most important of these was the information that precisely at 
midnight a spaceman would come to the door and escort them to 
the place where the saucer [tola] was parked. Everyone was in- 
structed to be perfectly silent while en route to the saucer. When 
their escort knocked on the door at midnight, Thomas Armstrong 
was to act as the sentry and ask the caller: "What is your ques- 
tion?" There was a thorough rehearsal of the passwords the be- 
lievers would have to use in boarding the saucer. Marian Keech 
temporarily took the role of the Guard at the portal of the space- 
ship and delivered the specific challenges he would use: "I am the 
porter," "I am the pointer," and so on, while the group in the 
160 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

living room responded aloud in unison "I am my own porter," 
"I am my own pointer," after each one. The group went through 
the drill with intense care. 

The next step in preparation was the removal of metal. The 
Creator and Sananda went over the matter thoroughly and left 
no doubt in anyone's mind that to leave any metal on one's person 
or in one's clothes would be a very dangerous error. All the be- 
lievers complied painstakingly with this order. Arthur Bergen, 
for example, carefully unwrapped the tinfoil from each stick of 
chewing gum in his pocket. Coins and keys were removed from 
pockets and watches from wrists. Many of the group had already 
checked their clothes and shoes carefully but now they went over 
them again and consulted each other about possible omissions. It 
was agreed that those who wore glasses with metal frames could 
simply discard them immediately before entering the saucer. For 
some reason, never specified, identification of any kind was also 
to be removed from one's person — it could be destroyed on the 
spot or simply left behind, but not taken to the saucer. Since this 
was a new order and an unanticipated one, it produced a flurry of 
excitement as the members sought to recall what items of identi- 
fication they might be carrying. Finally, the "secret books" of 
Marian's messages were ordered packed into a large shopping bag 
and given to Mark Post to carry aboard the saucer. These prepa- 
rations consumed a great deal of time, for each one was carefully 
reviewed and cross-checked. There was no margin for error. 

At about 11:15, Keech received a message ordering the 
group to get their overcoats and stand by. There were a few min- 
utes of milling about and the group reassembled in the living 
room, where Marian instructed everyone to be seated quietly and 
to "act as if this were just an ordinary gathering of friends" in an 
ordinary house. She particularly warned the members not to stand 
in front of the living room window, lest they attract the notice 
of the police, newspapermen, or neighbors who might be watch- 
ing and might attempt to follow the group when it left. She was 
especially concerned about the police and made a careful check 
to see whether a patrol car was outside the house. Her suspicions 

161 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

of being watched were reinforced when twice the phone rang 
but there was no answering voice on the other end of the line. 
These calls, Marian asserted, were from reporters checking to see 
whether the group was still at the house. 

By 11:30 all was in readiness and there was nothing to do but 
wait and think of things that had been overlooked. The few de- 
tails that did come up were disposed of hurriedly, for everything 
had to be in order by midnight. When Arthur Bergen suddenly 
remembered that his shoes had metal toecaps, it was too late to 
cut them out. From the ensuing excitement emerged the sugges- 
tion that he should simply loosen the laces and step out of his 
shoes before entering the saucer. At about 11:35, one of the au- 
thors let it be known that he had not removed the zipper from his 
trousers. This knowledge produced a near panic reaction. He was 
rushed into the bedroom where Dr. Armstrong, his hands trem- 
bling and his eyes darting to the clock every few seconds, slashed 
out the zipper with a razor blade and wrenched its clasps free 
with wire-cutters. By the time the operation was complete it was 
1 1 : 50, too late to do more than sew up the rent with a few rough 
stitches. Midnight was almost at hand and everyone must be ready 
on the dot. 

The last ten minutes were tense ones for the group in the living 
room. They had nothing to do but sit and wait, their coats in 
their laps. In the tense silence two clocks ticked loudly, one about 

ten minutes faster than the other. When the faster of the two 
pointed to 1 2 : 05, one of the observers remarked aloud on the fact. 
A chorus of people replied that midnight had not yet come. Bob 
Eastman affirmed that the slower clock was correct; he had set 
it himself only that afternoon. It showed only four minutes before 
midnight. 

These four minutes passed in complete silence except for a sin- 
gle utterance. When the (slower) clock on the mantel showed 
only one minute remaining before the guide to the saucer was 
due, Marian exclaimed in a strained, high-pitched voice: "And 
not a plan has gone astray!" The clock chimed twelve, each stroke 
painfully clear in the expectant hush. The believers sat motionless. 
162 



FOtJR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

One might have expected some visible reaction. Midnight had 
passed and nothing had happened. The cataclysm itself was less 
than seven hours away. But there was little to see in the reactions 
of the people in that room. There was no talking, no sound. Peo- 
ple sat stock still, their faces seemingly frozen and expressionless. 
Mark Post was the only person who even moved. He lay down 
on the sofa and closed his eyes, but did not sleep. Later, when 
spoken to, he answered monosyllabically, but otherwise lay im- 
mobile. The others showed nothing on the surface, although it 
became clear later that they had been hit hard. The next morning 
both Bertha Blatsky and Dr. Armstrong, for example, admitted 
that the shock had been overwhelming. Having lived through 
that trial, Dr. Armstrong felt, he could now stand anything. 

At about five minutes past midnight, the Creator announced 
that the plan still held: there had been a slight delay, that was all, 
a slight delay. The silence settled in again, and the minutes ticked 
by. Occasionally someone shifted in his chair or coughed but no 
one made a comment or asked a question. The Creator began to 
talk again, haltingly and disconnectedly. The attention of the 
group began to focus on Bertha's words and a stir of life passed 
through them. The phone rang two or three times, as reporters 
pursued their search of news, but the answers were brief: "No 
comment. We have nothing to tell you." 

By 12:30 the talk of the Creator began to crystallize into the 
promise of a miracle, a miracle that would be wrought that very 
night, when a loud bang on the door cut short His talk and 
brought another expectant hush to the room. It was momentary, 
however, for Thomas Armstrong leaped to his feet and made for 
the door. Marian half-rose from her seat, calling: "Remember, 
'What is your question'.'" and quickly dispatched Bob Eastman 
and one of the observers to remind the doctor of the watchword. 
But the excitement was short-lived, for the doctor returned to the 
living room without even having asked the question. The callers 
were just some boys, he said, just ordinary boys, not the man we 
were waiting for. The tension seeped back out of the room, and 
only the disappointment remained. The Creator resumed speaking. 

163 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

The next two hours were consumed by what amounted to a 
diversion. As the Creator droned on, occasionally asking to have 
something "verified in writing" by Mrs. Keech, He gradually 
developed the point that the group had been gathered this night 
to witness a miracle, namely, the death and resurrection of Mar- 
ian's husband. The appearance of such a curious matter on the 
agenda is perhaps best understood as a reaction to the failure of 
the expected midnight visitor to appear. If the attention of the 
group could focus on so spectacular a matter as the promised 
miracle, they could forget, at least temporarily, the terrible dis- 
appointment they had suffered. The Creator had once before pre- 
dicted the demise of the nonbelieving Mr. Keech and perhaps the 
idea came quickly to mind. But this time, for a real miracle, his 
death was to be followed by a resurrection. 

The elaborate exposition of the nature of miracles which ac- 
companied the Creator's attempt to perform this one may have 
succeeded in making the believers forget temporarily the saucer, 
the cataclysm, and the midnight failure. Mr. Keech had retired to 
his bed before nine o'clock and the miracle required first finding 
him dead and then returned to life. Three times that early morn- 
ing Thomas Armstrong and one of the observers were sent to Mr. 
Keech's room to see if he had died yet. Three times they returned, 
reporting that he was still alive and breathing normally. The mir- 
acle did not seem to be forthcoming, and finally the Creator, 
floundering for a solution, announced that the miracle had already 
occurred — Mr. Keech had died earlier that evening but had been 
resurrected and was once again alive. This solution was so inade- 
quate, however, that even the authority of the Creator could not 
gain acceptance for it. It was quickly buried in silence. 

At this point the miracle working was interrupted by a mun- 
dane matter that demanded immediate attention. Arthur Bergen, 
who had expected by that time to be far off in space, recalled 
that his mother was planning to notify the police of his where- 
abouts if he were not home by 2 a.m. His announcement created 
a flurry of down-to-earth concern. A visit from the police at this 
point would have been the final humiliating blow. Arthur was 
164 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

urged to telephone his mother at once that he was on his way 
home, and a cab was summoned for him. There was a brief part- 
ing ceremony in which Arthur was assured that his departure was 
a sacrifice to save the rest of the group, but that the spacemen 
would not overlook him, no matter where he might be. 

After he had left, the Creator began reworking the miracle, 
telling the group that the death and resurrection of Mr. Keech 
referred to a purely spiritual matter and had indeed already oc- 
curred. During the previous weeks Mr. Keech had been spiritually 
dead, just a walking shell; but recently he had begun to take a 
new interest in the beliefs of the group and tonight in his sleep, 
the process had been completed. He was now spiritually resur- 
rected. This interpretation seemed to be accepted by the group 
and the topic of the miracle was dropped. At about 2:30, Marian 
received a message from Sananda urging the group to take a break 
for coffee. 

During this break, which lasted for about half an hour, every- 
one in the group was reluctant to talk about the failure of the 
midnight prediction — everyone, that is, except the five observers 
who wanted to talk about it very much. They kept asking the 
others in the house such questions as "What do you think hap- 
pened to the man who was supposed to come at midnight?" 
"Why didn't he come?" "What did the miracle have to do with 
his not coming?" "Will the saucer still pick us up?" and so on. 

Bob Eastman seemed disillusioned. The promised pickup at 
midnight had not materialized and he seemed inclined to write 
the whole thing oS. The publisher seemed withdrawn and de- 
tached. He told an observer that time didn't mean anything; per- 
haps the saucer pickup happened a thousand years ago or perhaps 
it would happen a thousand years from now. The others, how- 
ever, were neither willing to accept the disillusionment nor tran- 
quil about the failure of the escort to appear at midnight. Dr. 
Armstrong, when questioned, responded, "Have no fear, don't 
ever not believe, he'll show up, he'll come." The doctor felt the 
group might have misinterpreted the message, but he was sure 
that the plan was working out the way the "boys upstairs" in- 

165 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

tended. Edna Post's answer was that the message from Sananda 
had not specifically stated that a man was to come at midnight, 
but she didn't want to discuss the actual message. When one of 
the authors offered to check the message with her she ignored 
the opportunity. Nor could Bertha think of any explanation other 
than possible misinterpretation of the message. 

The observers were pressing Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. Keech 
in particular to face the fact that midnight had passed and nothing 
had happened. The doctor seemed unable to offer an explanation 
that satisfied even himself. Marian refused to give any new inter- 
pretation of the message. Instead, she gave a rather long reply that 
carried the seeds of what was to be the eventual rationalization of 
the failure of the saucer pickup to occur: 

"Well, all right. Suppose they gave us a wrong date. Well, this 
only got into the newspapers on Thursday and people had only 
72 hours to get ready to meet their maker. Now suppose it doesn't 
happen tonight. Let's suppose it happens next year or two years 
or three or four years from now. I'm not going to change one bit. 
I'm going to sit here and write and maybe people will say it was 
this little group spreading light here that prevented the flood. Or 
maybe if it's delayed for a couple of years there'll be time to get 
people together. I don't know. All I know is that the plan has 
never gone astray. We have never had a plan changed. And you'll 
see tomorrow the house will be full of them and we'll have an 
open house and I'll need every one of you to answer the phone 
and maybe they'll ask us to go on television. I'm not sorry a bit. 
I won't be sorry no matter what happens." 

Shortly after 3 a.m. the coffee break was called to a halt and 
the group reconvened in the living room. It is highly likely that, 
by this time, most of the believers knew that no man would come, 
no saucer would pick them up, and perhaps also that no cata- 
clysm would occur. The questioning by the observers during the 
previous half-hour probably hastened their realization of these 
things and made it difficult to push the disappointments out of 
their minds any longer. At any rate, in the next hour and a half, 
the group began to come to grips with the fact that no caller had 
166 



FOtTR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
arrived at midnight to take them to the saucer. The problem from 
here on was to reassure themselves and to find an adequate, satis- 
fying way to reconcile the disconfirmation with their beliefs. 

They began by re-examining the original message which had 
stated that at midnight the group would be put into parked cars 
and taken to the saucer. In response to some of the observers' 
prodding about that message during the coffee break, the Creator 
stated that anyone who wished might look up that message. It 
had been buried away among many others in a large envelope 
and none of the believers seemed inclined to look for it, but one 
of the observers volunteered. He found it and read it aloud to the 
group. The first attempt at reinterpretation came quickly. Daisy 
Armstrong pointed out that the message must, of course, be sym- 
bolic, because it said we were to be put into parked cars; but 
parked cars do not move and hence could not take the group any- 
where. The Creator then announced that the message was indeed 
symbolic, but the "parked cars" referred to their own physical 
bodies, which had obviously been there at midnight. The "porch" 
(flying saucer), He went on, symbolized in this message the inner 
strength, the inner knowing, and inner light which each member 
of the group had. So eager was the group for an explanation of 
any kind that many actually began to accept this one. 

Curiously enough, it was Marian Keech herself who refused to 
agree with this interpretation. To her, she said, it did not ring 
true; it didn't sound right; she didn't believe it was the correct 
interpretation. Bertha, with some hostility, asked Marian whether 
she had a more valid interpretation whereupon Marian replied, 
"No, I don't have a more valid one. I don't think we have to in- 
terpret it, we don't have to understand everything. The plan has 
never gone astray. We don't know what the plan is but it has 
never gone astray." 

But this position too, was unsatisfactory. The shock and disap- 
pointment had been too great and the predicted cataclysm was 
too close (if it were still to occur) for the believers to be content 
with no explanation, so the discussion went on with various alter- 
native suggestions being made. When 4 a.m. came without a sat- 

167 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

isfactory resolution having been achieved, another break was 
taken. One of the authors walked out the front door to get some 
air and Dr. Armstrong, thinking he was becoming disaffected and 
needed bolstering, dashed out after him. The doctor proceeded to 
deliver an inspirational talk, an important part of which was a 
statement about his own situation and his own belief. This is pre- 
sented below as nearly verbatim as his listener could record it 
immediately after Dr. Armstrong left him alone "to meditate": 

"I've had to go a long way. I've given up just about everything. 
I've cut every tie: I've burned every bridge. I've turned my back 
on the world. I can't afford to doubt. I have to believe. And there 
isn't any other truth. The preachers and priests don't have it and 
you have to look closely to find it even in the Bible. I've taken 
an awful beating in the last few months, just an awful beating. 
But I do know who I am and I know what I've got to do. I know 
I've got to teach just as Jesus knew, and I don't care what hap- 
pens tonight. I can't afford to doubt. I won't doubt even if we 
have to make an announcement to the press tomorrow and admit 
we were wrong. You're having your period of doubt now, but 
hang on, boy, hang on. This is a tough time but we know that the 
boys upstairs are taking care of us. They've given us their prom- 
ise. These are tough times and the way is not easy. We all have 
to take a beating. I've taken a terrific one, but I have no doubt." 

While Dr. Armstrong was outdoors counseling the observer, 
Mrs. Keech broke down and cried bitterly. She knew, she sobbed, 
there were some who were beginning to doubt but we must beam 
light on those who needed it most and we must hold the group 
together. The rest of the group lost their composure too. They 
were all, now, visibly shaken and many were close to tears. It was 
a bad quarter of an hour. 

Soon afterward, however, the observer re-entered the house 
and announced that Dr. Armstrong had helped him a lot. His re- 
turn cheered the group considerably and brought visible relief to 
Mrs. Keech. But the fundamental problem of the group remained; 
it was now almost 4: 30 a.m. and still no way of handling the dis- 
confirmation had been found. By now, too, most of the group 

168 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

were talking openly about the failure of the man to come at mid- 
night. They milled about the living room or stood in small groups 
discussing their feelings. Both Edna and Mark Post, for example, 
compared the events of this night to the disappointment they had 
suffered three days earlier when they stood for hours in the icy 
back yard waiting for a saucer to land. 

But this atmosphere did not remain long. At about 4:45 a.m. 
Marian once more summoned everyone to the living room, an- 
nouncing that she had just received a message which she read 
aloud. She then read these momentous words: 

"For this day is it established that there is but one God of 
Earth, and He is in thy midst, and from his hand thou has written 
these words. And mighty is the word of God — and by his word 
have ye been saved — for from the mouth of death have ye been 
delivered and at no time has there been such a force loosed upon 
the Earth. Not since the beginning of time upon this Earth has 
there been such a force of Good and light as now floods this room 
and that which has been loosed within this room now floods the 
entire Earth. As thy God has spoken through the two who sit 
within these walls has he manifested that which he has given thee 
to do." 

This message was received with enthusiasm by the group. It 
was an adequate, even an elegant, explanation of the disconfirma- 
tion. The cataclysm had been called off. The little group, sitting 
all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the 
world from destruction. As soon as the full acceptability of the 
message was clear, Marian had two more messages in rapid suc- 
cession, the first of which was to be used as an introduction to 
the main message: It read: "Such are the facts as stated that the 
group has sat for the Father's message the night through and God 
has spoken and that is every word to be said." The second mes- 
sage was to the effect that the main message and the introduction 
were to be headed "The Christmas Message to the People of 
Earth"; this "Christmas Message" together with the fact that it 
had been received at 4:45 a.m. was to be released immediately to 
the newspapers. 

169 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Soon after this second message had been read Kurt Freund got 
up from his chair, put on his hat and coat, and departed. The 
group had lost another member as a result of the disconfirmation. 

But the rest of the believers were jubilant, for they had a satis- 
fying explanation of the disconfirmation. The whole atmosphere 
of the group changed abruptly and, with it, their behavior changed 
too. From this point on their behavior toward the newspapers 
showed an almost violent contrast to what it had been. Instead of 
avoiding newspaper reporters and feeling that the attention they 
were getting in the press was painful, they almost instantly be- 
came avid seekers of publicity. 

Marian insisted that the first reporter to be informed should be 
one who had been sympathetic toward the group in the past and 
had written stories she felt were fair. As she reached for the 
phone, Mark asked whether she wouldn't like someone else to 
make the call as she must be tired. Mrs. Keech vigorously rejected 
the suggestion; she wanted to do it herself, she said. She called the 
newspaper, but had some difficulty finding the reporter of her 
choice since he was at home asleep at that hour. Marian insisted 
that she had something exclusive for him, and while the news- 
paper tried to rouse their man, she sat holding the line open for 
some fifteen minutes. 

During her wait one of the observers asked: "Marian, is this the 
first time you have called the newspaper yoiurself?" Her reply 
was immediate: "Oh, yes, this is the first time I've ever called 
them. I've never had anything to tell them before, but now I feel 
it's urgent." The whole group could have echoed her feelings, 
for they all felt a sense of urgency. The message was to be given to 
the newspapers as soon as possible, with emphasis on the fact that 
this group had saved the world and on the fact that the message 
had been received several hours before the cataclysm itself was to 
have begun. 

Mrs. Keech finally spoke to the newsman, read the message to 
him, and took pains to see that he had got it all exactly right. No 
sooner had she hung up than the rest of the group began to make 
suggestions about calling other newspapers. Dr. Armstrong urged 
170 



FOUR DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 
calling the Associated Press and the United Press, for "this thing 
is pretty important — it's a very big thing, bigger than one news- 
paper." Bertha Blatsky supported his view, saying she didn't think 
the Creator would want this to be an exclusive story. Mark Post 
said he wanted to call a local reporter who had been friendly to 
him, and so it went. 

While Bertha and Dr. Armstrong were probably most insistent, 
the rest of the group seemed to agree with their desire to spread 
the word as widely and as quickly as possible. One of the ob- 
servers pointed out that if the group wanted to give a news beat 
to the paper Mrs. Keech had called, they ought not to phone any 
others; anyway, the observer added, the other papers could pick 
it up from the first one to publish it. These remarks were com- 
pletely ignored and the matter was finally settled by deciding to 
give the one newspaper a five-minute head start. Their sense of 
urgency was enormous. 

There were further suggestions about publicity. Bertha asked 
if perhaps Life magazine should be given the news, but Mrs, 
Keech got a message saying that no photographs were to be per- 
mitted, or photostats of the actual message. "They shall have the 
word only," she announced. 

At this point, apparently overcome with fatigue or relief, 
Marian loosed her grip on the phone and dragged herself over to 
the couch. In a matter of moments, Mark was dialing the number 
of another newspaper and asking for his favorite reporter. Dr. 
Armstrong succeeded him and, in rapid fire order, called the 
major wire services. For the next hour and a half he kept control 
of the phone, making and answering calls in a brisk, self-assured 
manner, explaining at length the significance of the message. Daisy 
Armstrong began typing out copies of the "Christmas Message" to 
give the reporters when they came to the house, occasionally 
"correcting" it or making emendations. The machinery of pub- 
licity was rolling at a furious rate. 

By 6:30 A.M. all the local newspapers and the national wire 
services had been called, and some of the initial jubilation had 
abated. Not only were the members of the group utterly ex- 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

hausted from the fatigue and tension of their vigil, but some were 
beginning to face the hard facts of life in an unflooded world. 
Edna Post, for example, withdrew to the kitchen where she began 
to cry very softly. She explained that she was completely at a 
loss as to what to do now. In anticipation of being picked up by 
a saucer both she and her son had given up their jobs and now 
had little income. Their savings would last for a bit, but what 
had she to look forward to? Who would help her? What could 
she do? Daisy and Cleo Armstrong fell to discussing a similar 
problem a little later. Their family too faced an uncertain eco- 
nomic future and Dr. Armstrong would have to get a job, but 
where? They could not return to Collegeville and face a scorn- 
ful town, they felt, and Cleo would probably have to give up 
college. They did not know where they would go or how they 
would live. 

Bob Eastman was exhausted and somewhat bitter: "Right now, 
I don't know how to feel. I just — it's not clear. The way it is 
around here, your right hand doesn't know what your left hand 
is doing. I think I'll go to bed." Marian, Bertha, and Dr. Arm- 
strong seemed less depressed than the others, although they too 
were less elated than they had been an hour earlier. The discon- 
firmation had been rationalized but it still left an uncomfortable 
situation. 

It was Bertha who revived their spirits somewhat by turning 
their attention to new outlets for publicity. In a session lasting 
almost an hour, the voice of the Creator made two important 
pronouncements; first, all the hitherto private, in fact secret, tape 
recordings were to be made available to the public — anyone 
could obtain a copy; and, second, the Creator Himself would make 
special new tapes for anyone who wanted one. All the interested 
person had to do was to provide new tapes and he could have a 
private session in which the Creator answered his questions and 
recorded the answers. All this, furthermore, was to be free of 
charge. When Dr. Armstrong asked whether any of the tapes 
should be released to television and radio networks, the Creator 
assured him that such a move would be advisable, and the major 
172 



FOWL DAYS OF VERY IMMINENT SALVATION 

networks ought to be informed soon of the availability of the 
recordings. The purpose of releasing the tapes, the Creator said, 
was to spread the light as far and wide as possible. It is hardly 
necessary to stress the complete about-face that had occurred 
with regard to the tape recordings — from being sworn secrets 
they were catapulted into the full glare of national news. 

Finally, the Creator assured all the members there that they 
need not worry about the future. They must continue to learn, 
to study, and to teach and spread the light to others, but they 
themselves would be taken care of. 

At about eight that morning the group tuned in a network tele- 
vision program to hear the tape which they had recorded for it 
that morning over the phone. They were as ready as they would 
ever be for the day ahead of them, for the reporters, and for the 
world. 



»73 



CHAPTER M^^^An Unfulfilled Prophecy and 
an Elated Prophet 



Chaotic though they may seem, the days immediately preced- 
ing December 2 1 were at least loosely organized around a domi- 
nant theme — cataclysm and salvation. By dawn on the 21st, 
however, this semblance of organization had vanished as the mem- 
bers of the group sought frantically to convince the world of 
their beliefs. In succeeding days, they also made a series of des- 
perate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making pre- 
diction after prediction in the hope that one would come true, 
and they conducted a vain search for guidance from the Guardians. 

The first reporter to appear in response to their calls on the 
morning of December 2 1 was from a newspaper that had treated 
the whole story rather flippantly. Before Marian Keech would 
say even a word to him, she examined the clippings from his 
paper. Then she turned on him with "The answer is no, we have 
nothing to give you. We have nothing at all for you. What we 
have won't go in a scandal sheet like this." The reporter began 
to protest but before he could finish his sentence she interrupted: 
"We can't give you anything; we have no news." So saying, she 
shoved the press release into his hand with these words: "Look 
at this — see if that isn't news. Read it, read it, read it." 

While the reporter was reading the release the telephone rang 
and Mrs. Keech answered. Her conversation seemed to be inter- 
minable and finally the reporter left the house even though 
Marian called to him to "Sit down, sit down and wait while I 
finish with this calL" When she had finished, long after the re- 
porter's departure, Marian looked about the room for him and 
seemed quite concerned over his leaving. She asked everyone in 



AN ^FULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 
the room what had become of him, what he had said when he 
walked out, and whether he would be coming back. When in- 
formed that he had said he would be back later she seemed relieved. 

The long telephone call had been from a glib local newscaster. 
On the morning of the 20th, he had phoned to invite Marian to 
an end-of-the-world cocktail party to begin at midnight and last 
until the end of the world. During this earlier call, the commenta- 
tor had apparently been impertinent and irreverent and when 
Marian refused to join his party, he accused Sananda of being 
narrow-minded. Marian had terminated that call in heat and anger. 

In his call on the morning of the 2 ist the commentator appar- 
ently continued his baiting tactics, for Marian argued vigorously 
with him and refused to let a point go by. Finally, he asked if he 
could come out and see her. Marian responded, "Only if you're 
serious," and added, "I will ask for a message but you must abide 
by it. If the message says 'no,' then you will abide by it. If it 
says 'yes' then you are to come right out." She took paper and 
pencil and wrote an enormous "YES." Returning to the phone 
she said with elation, "The message said 'yes.' Come right out, 
come right out this minute." 

When the commentator arrived, he asked Mrs. Keech to record 
a tape for his evening program. She indicated that she would 
consent to record only the message that had come through at 
4:45 A.M. and asked, "If I read the message to you and record it 
for you, will you give it in its entirety without deleting a word?" 
He agreed; Marian read the message; and then, while still record- 
ing, the commentator proceeded to question her. She eagerly an- 
swered all his questions in great detail, and succeeded in making 
an exceedingly long tape with a full exposition of her beliefs, the 
background of the movement, and some explication of the mes- 
sages. 

This interview concluded, another broadcaster who had ac- 
companied the newscaster to the house asked Mrs. Keech: "I have 
a program concerned with women's views on various important 
problems. I wonder if you would make a transcription for me?" 
He seemed prepared to persuade her, but there was no persuading 

175 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

to be done. Eagerly seizing another opportunity to proselyte she 
grabbed his microphone saying,"! think one of the most impor- 
tant problems is the difficulty of education. Our educational sys- 
tem is all wrong." And for some ten minutes, she talked into the 
microphone on what the messages from Sananda and colleagues 
had revealed about the problem of education. 

And so the day continued. Till evening, the house was crowded 
with the now-welcome horde of newspaper, radio, and television 
representatives; the phone rang incessantly; and visitors, mostly 
leather-jacketed high school boys, streamed in and out the door. 

The press and the broadcasters got what they wanted and more. 
The initial pretense of dealing only with reporters who had been 
sympathetic in the past quickly vanished and all newsmen were 
received cordially, offered coffee and food, and granted extensive 
interviews. Not only were all their questions answered freely but 
much information was volunteered. In some cases, interviews with 
the press lasted more than two hours. 

Though the newspaper people were, of course, interested in 
speaking chiefly to Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong, other mem- 
bers of the group inserted themselves at various times into these 
interviews. Bertha Blatsky, who had previously made a point of 
avoiding publicity out of fear of her husband, now talked at 
length to at least one reporter; Daisy Armstrong took part in 
several interviews; Mark Post had taken pains to invite a particu- 
lar reporter to the house and saw to it that the man's every ques- 
tion was answered. Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong made a total 
of five tape recordings for radio broadcast. Only one prohibition 
remained in force: pictures were still forbidden. 

The vivid contrast between all this activity and the earlier be- 
havior of the group toward the press is, of course, dramatic. Dur- 
ing the five days preceding disconfirmation, the believers had 
flatly refused to have anything to do with the press and the news- 
men had been able to extract only one interview from Mrs. Keech 
and Dr. Armstrong and a single, thirty-second recording of the 
doctor's views. Furthermore, iJhe reporters had almost been forced 
to beat down the door to talk to the two principals and had been 

176 



AN XXNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 
granted their interview only after hinting the threat to publish 
their own versions of the group's beliefs. 

The barrage of telephone calls that day came from newspapers, 
from seriously interested or idly curious private citizens, and from 
jokers. Those reporters who did not trouble to visit the house 
were nevertheless given extensive interviews over the phone and 
subjected to detailed exposition of the events of the past several 
days and the beliefs of die group. Serious individuals who called 
received similar treatment and were usually invited to the house. 
Even the most absurd jokers were treated cordially and answered 
with good-humored banter; in some cases badinage with them 
continued for ten or fifteen minutes, ending with an invitation 
to come to the house. 

Visitors to the house were indiscriminately admitted, and, in 
contrast to earlier days, no attempt was made to sort the chosen 
from the heathen. Both Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. Keech made an 
effort to see their visitors, to answer their questions, and, if the 
situation permitted, to engage in prolonged explanations or argu- 
ments. But they were so often interrupted by telephone calls, 
questions from the press, and the arrival of new groups of visitors 
that their attempts to carry on discussions were disjointed and 
fragmentary. Although Mrs. Armstrong and the Posts tried to 
fill in when the two principals were busy elsewhere, they were 
simply not colorful or newsworthy enough to hold their listen- 
ers' attention and occasionally the visitors wandered off in bore- 
dom. Anxious though all the members were to proselyte, they 
were inept and ineffective. Still without a plan for carrying on 
instruction, without any written material to hand out, without 
any duties or rituals to prescribe for potential converts, they con- 
centrated their efforts on explaining their system of beliefs, relat- 
ing the rationale for the failure of the flood to occur, and trying 
to answer whatever questions the visitor might bring up. 

Although no one in the house had slept for more than three or 
four of the past thirty-six hours, the amiable, manic uproar con- 
tinued till early evening. By then the last member of the press 
had gone, and the group in the house took time out for dinner. 

177 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

By this time, too, the believers had become concerned about the 
possibility that some of the telephone calls coming into the house 
might be coded messages from the Guardians. In order to be sure 
that they would not miss any important information or orders, 
they hooked up a tape recorder to the telephone and recorded all 
incoming calls. This hookup was maintained for a week, during 
which the recordings were occasionally reviewed in an effort to 
sift out any orders they might contain. 

At about 8: 30, nine high school students trooped in to converse 
with Mrs. Keech. They found her at the telephone deep in a dis- 
cussion of flying saucers with a caller whom, it later turned out, 
she believed to be a spaceman. Eager to continue talking to him 
and at the same time anxious to keep her new guests, Marian 
simply included them in the conversation and, for more than an 
hour, chatted alternately with her guests in the living room and 
the "spaceman" on the other end of the telephone. So intent was 
she on proselyting that she seemed unable to let any opportunity 
go by. At the same time, however, she wanted to entice the "space- 
man" to pay her a visit. Her solution was to adopt a strategy that 
accomplished both ends; she quizzed her guests on their attitude 
toward spacemen, and steered the conversation in such a way as 
to reassure the telephoner that he would meet a friendly recep- 
tion. Thus her questions to die visiting high school students ran: 
"Do you think that the spacemen could teach you anything? 
How many? Show me hands, quick. At least you're willing to 
learn. Would you be willing to work with them? How much 
would you sacrifice to work with them? If a spaceman came and 
he had to have a place to hide to keep from being persecuted, 
would you take him into your home? Who would? All right, 
everybody would take a spaceman in. Well, that's a good show- 
ing." 

This three-way conversation continued until the telephone 
caller indicated that he would like to come to the house for a 
visit. Some of the high school boys volunteered to drive over and 
pick him up. When these boys had left, Mrs. Keech explained 
to one of the observers why she had been so intent on prolong- 
178 



AN UNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 

ing the phone call: "As soon as I heard his voice," she said, "I 
felt a sympathetic communication and I knew that this was one 
of the boys from upstairs." Her pleasure at the way the incident 
was working out could hardly be missed. 

Shortly afterward the telephone rang again and a young boy's 
voice told Mrs. Keech: "We have a flood in our bathroom and 
we're going to have a party. Would you like to come over?" 
Marian hesitated not a moment; she took down the address, and, 
very excitedly, called to the other believers: "Everybody get your 
coats. Let's go." The entire menage trooped out to a nearby ad- 
dress and returned, in disappointment, fifteen minutes later. 

None of the observers went on this brief excursion, but Edna 
Post described the incident the next day. They had all walked 
over to the address, marched up to the door, and knocked. A 
woman answered and Mrs. Keech asked, by name, for a boy who 
had visited earlier in the day and whom Marian suspected of being 
a spaceman. But the woman turned them away, and everyone 
returned to the house. Clearly, Mrs. Keech was grasping at any- 
thing, even so obvious a joke as this, in an attempt to find some 
confirmation of her beliefs, for she was sure that spacemen were 
trying to communicate to the group in code. One clue as to how 
this incident was rationalized comes in a further remark of Edna's: 
"As we got there a car that had been parked in front of the house 
drove away. We missed our cue. We were too late there; we 
didn't get what we expected." 

Soon after the group returned to the Keech house, the high 
school boys who had gone to fetch the alleged "spaceman" came 
back with him. He was a teen-age aficionado of flying saucers 
and had brought along quantities of literature on the subject. He 
passed it out among the group and the rest of the evening was 
spent in a discussion of saucers. By ii p.m. all the visitors had 
left except the suspected spaceman, and Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. 
Keech took him aside for a private conversation. We do not know 
what they talked about, but it is a reasonable guess that this 
"spaceman" was plagued for orders. If this was the case, it is an 
early instance of behavior that was to become more marked later 

179 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

on. All the members, but especially the leaders, were floundering. 
Still fast in their beliefs, but more and more directionless as each 
succeeding prediction failed, they searched desperately for guid- 
ance, for some sign or some person to tell them what to do next. 

One further trend was noticeable on December 21. As the day 
wore on, Mrs. Keech began to make more and more of the im- 
portance of some recent news items. The morning newspapers 
contained an article about an earthquake in Nevada that had 
occurred about five days earlier, pointing out that if the quake 
had happened in a populated area, the destruction would have 
been enormous. Mrs. Keech showed the story excitedly to the 
members of the group, emphasizing the fact that, indeed, cata- 
clysms were happening; though the Lake City area had been 
spared because of the light shed by this little group, upheavals 
were taking place elsewhere. Here, she declared, was evidence 
for the validity of the prediction. This theme did not play a 
prominent part in the press interviews she gave during the morn- 
ing and early afternoon, but it grew in importance in response 
to further disaster news. 

At about 2 P.M. both the Associated Press and the United Press 
called Marian to inform her of earthquakes that had occurred that 
very day in Italy and in California. She took this news in stride, 
telling the inquiring editors that "It all ties in with what I be- 
lieve." During the remainder of the afternoon she made frequent 
reference to these earthquakes when she was talking to outsiders, 
pointing out that cataclysms were taking place just as her mes- 
sages from Sananda warned her, and describing dramatically the 
vastness of the destruction wrought by these disasters. Mrs. Keech 
continued to play on this theme and incorporated it into her 
views of recent events. She and the others in the group probably 
found in the earthquake reports support for their beliefs. In spite 
of the elegance of the "Christmas Message" as a rationalization, 
there was still a clear need for some kind of confirmation. The 
dissonance created by the major disconfirmation still rankled. 

In the early morning of December 22, Mrs. Keech's pencil re- 
corded a message that the group seized upon as a new reason for 
180 



AN UNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 

calling in the press. This message revoked the firm prohibition 
against pictures, and even instructed them to make special efforts 
to please photographers. The message read in part: 

"Be on your toes and give it to the papers at the time they 
come to you. You are to give it together and you are to be as a 
unit and you are to pose together and you are to put the best foot 
forward and you are to give them the very best care and at no 
time are they to be angered or unduly gored. Be you at the door 
to receive them . . . and give the proper selling for the people 
who come and be in the middle of the confusion and give them 
what they are after . . . For the time being say it is the prophet 
who has given his concern to the pictures and for the first one 
who called give him the first picture and not a one is to be denied. 
So gladly ye shall pose and give them the sign and no one shall 
know who is not a brother and not a potter shall be among them. 
Be ye wise and give the sign to each reporter and that is essential 
and for that matter there is not one who shall be admitted to this 
room who is not to be used for the good of all. And not a person 
shall say who is who or what is what and go into the place where- 
in is the new dress put it on and give them a show put upon thy 
face the smear [lipstick] and give them the works and put thy 
furbish on." 

Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. Keech, with the occasional participa- 
tion of other members of the group, prepared a new press release 
before calling the newspapers. This is a particularly interesting 
document, for it highlights once more the extent to which the 
disconfirmation still pained the believers. The major portion of 
the release has no connection whatever with the contents of the 
message that stimulated it, but rather is concerned with "faults 
in the earth's surface" and with recent geophysical disturbances. 
The relationship between concern with such matters and Marian 
Keech's reaction to the news about the Italian and Califomian 
earthquakes is obvious, and it is also clear that the group consid- 
ered these recent events to be consistent with portions of the 
cataclysmic prediction and the beliefs on which it was based. The 
press release, in its entirety, reads: 

i8i 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

"Due to the confusion which has arisen from the prophecy we 
have decided to unite forces to complete the prophecy. 

"It was reported on the 21st that the cataclysm was stayed by 
the hand of the God of Earth. The date was given in order to 
alert the people to the possibilities in case of a disturbance so that 
we could avoid panic. 

"It has come to our attention that the Flying Saucers, or more 
correctly, the 'Guardians of Earth,' are here for a definite pur- 
pose. They have been surveying the earth where there are faults 
in the earth's surface and they are prepared to land in case of an 
impending emergency and evacuate some of the people before 
the disturbance occurs. 

"It is necessary for the people to be prepared and alert to the 
possibilities in order to avoid panic. 

"It is now commonly known and has been reported in the press 
that the surface of the earth is in an unstable condition. This very 
year on Oct. 4, the News Press said in part: 'As for the earth skin 
slipping. Dr. Robert R. Revelle of the U.S. National Research 
Council and Dr. Walter H. Munk of the Scripps Institute of 
Oceanography, say, in Rome, that there is a slip of about 75 ft. 
per year between the earth's outer skin and her inner core. To 
make matters worse, the AP reports that these scientists confirm 
an increasing tip in the earth's axis.' 

"We wish to call the people's attention to the fact that there 
have been a number of violent disturbances in the past few years, 
particularly the one several years ago in Assam and Tibet, and 
more recently in the Mediterranean area and Western United 
States." 

Besides indicating the leaders' need to incorporate "confirming 
evidence," the press release well documents their desire to prose- 
lyte. It is also interesting to note that the ostensible reason for 
giving out the release was the necessity for warning the public 
of probable upheavals "in order to avoid panic," precisely the 
reason employed before December 21 to justify the opposite — 
extreme secrecy about the forecast cataclysm "in order to prevent 
panic." 

182 



AN UNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 
The press release completed, there began a new surge of pub- 
licity seeking. The press services and the local newspapers were 
once again phoned and, for the first time, calls were made to the 
picture magazines, newsreel companies, and television stations. 
Once again, the press responded enthusiastically, this time to re- 
ceive an even more cordial reception than they had on the previ- 
ous day. Members of the group posed in any arrangement the 
photographers wished. Interviews were prolonged, gracious affairs 
and for the first time Marian Keech consented to demonstrate for 
the press her mode of receiving communications from the Guard- 
ians. 

During four separate interviews, with little urging, she took 
pencil in hand and received messages— some directed to herself 
and some apparently addressed to the reporters, but all concerned 
with spreading the word of truth. One such message advised her 
to treat the reporters well: "Give them of thy love and be ye 
glad for they but champion thy cause. So bless them and give 
them the peach which they seek." Another admonished the re- 
porters: "Because ye have a responsibility to the poor people who 
have not learned to be their own communicators have ye been 
sent to communicate for them so shall it be done with dignity." 
A third message was lengthy but contained only two main in- 
structions to the neAvsmen about how to treat Mrs. Keech: "Do 
not belittle her" and "Be her sibet." When Marian had finished 
writing this message she read it aloud and then spent several min- 
utes discussing and explaining it. She discussed only the meaning 
of the word "sibet" and made it crystal clear that the message 
instructed the reporters to be her students. 

By late afternoon of December 22, the flow of visitors had 
declined and, on Marian's suggestion. Dr. Armstrong took ad- 
vantage of this hiatus to start on a hurried overnight automobile 
trip to CoUegeville. His sister had initiated court action to have 
the two Armstrongs declared legally insane and to have a guard- 
ian appointed for their children and their estate. The purpose of 
this trip was to get the little girl and her older brother out of 
CollegeviQe that night and to bring them back to Lake City. 

183 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Following Dr. Armstrong's departure and still during the late 
afternoon lull, Mrs. Keech received a message which made a new, 
though minor, prediction. The most interesting portions of the 
message are the following: 

"So shall ye be at the altar at the time of the evening when 
there is a tola [flying saucer] directly over you. So by your own 
tape shall ye play a song and dance your own time. Use the mike 
and put it on the altar and sit where you are and put the hand 
to the mike not too close and be the first to get the direct taped 
posy word. And give thyself the pleasxire of a pretty song which 
has been sung by the boys' glee club of the Losoloes. Be in the 
altar at the time of eight o'clock and at that time ye shall give 
the boy the job of recording but stay where you are." 

Following these orders, the group gathered at the altar (the 
sun porch) promptly at eight o'clock. Marian resting in an arm- 
chair, extended her right arm with fingers pointed to within a 
few inches of the microphone and uttered not a sound. The tape 
recorder was turned on to the recording position and for almost 
an hour the group waited in complete, devotional silence while 
the writing hand of Marian Keech presumably transmitted the 
songs of Losolo University to the tape. 

Before the reel of tape had run its length, there was a knock 
on the door and a cluster of four reporters and photographers en- 
tered the house. The machine was turned off, and Marian devoted 
her full attention for the next two hours to die press. While this 
interview was going on. Bob Eastman walked over to the record- 
ing machine, rewound it, and, at medium volume, started to play 
back the tape. He listened, for some ten minutes of silent concen- 
tration, to nothing, and then he was joined by Mark and Edna 
Post, who turned the volume control all the way up. Together 
they listened to tube hum and finally turned off the machine and 
walked away. Bob took out the message instructing them to 
record and studied it carefully. When Bob was asked, "Why do 
you think nothing happened?" he shrugged and said simply, "I 
don't know." To the same question, Mark Post replied, "Well, so 
184 



AN UNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 
many things that we've received messages on haven't come out 
I don't know." 

Mrs. Keech had also noted that the tape was still completely 
blank, and admitted that she had heard nothing when it was 
played back. When she was asked "What do you think is the 
reason?" she replied, "Well, the reason was, I'm afraid, that I 
was thinking while the machine was turned on to record." And 
that is all we know of the rationalization of this disconfirmation. 

One further incident of that evening illustrates again the extent 
to which these successive disconfirmations of her predictions 
were pushing Mrs. Keech, her belief still intact, to hunt in every 
direction for guidance. When two of the authors prepared to 
take their final leave of the group, they asked Marian for a last 
message. Her response, by implication and innuendo, as well as 
in the words she wrote, made it perfectly clear that she had de- 
cided that the two either "had their own channels" to the Guard- 
ians or perhaps were spacemen themselves, and she therefore 
considered their request a huge, though private, joke. With a 
knowing smile, she picked up her pencil and wrote two messages, 
interrupting her task from time to time with such comments as 
"Why don't you let us in on your secrets? When will you tell 
us everything?" Because the tenor of the two messages is the 
same, we quote the relevant portion of only one of them: "So 
shall ye put your cards on the table and call an ace an ace and a 
spade a spade and ye shall also say who is who and what is what. 
And now do your duty as a Brother. Beleis." The desperation of 
her search for direction was growing rapidly. 

On the next day, December 23, Dr. Armstrong returned from 
CoUegeville with his two younger children, and found group 
headquarters in a relatively quiet state. There were occasional 
calls from reporters, but the press had begun to lose interest in 
what might be happening at the Keech home, and stories about 
the group were no longer front-page news. Other inquiries, 
whether by phone or in person, had also become less frequent 
and only a few bands of teen-agers came to the house. In spite of 
all the publicity they had received, in spite of their vigorous prose- 

185 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

lyting, the group had failed to attract a single new adherent and 
even the supply of potential converts appeared to be dv/ind- 
ling. 

Perhaps this complete failure to obtain even a trace of support 
for their ideology precipitated another prediction and a last-ditch 
frantic effort to stimulate public interest — an effort that followed 
a now familiar pattern. On the afternoon of the 23rd, Mrs. Keech 
received a very long message that forecast momentous events to 
take place on Christmas Eve. The message commanded the group 
to assemble at 6 p.m. on the 24th on the sidewalk in front of the 
Keech home and to sing Christmas carols. The group would be 
visited there by spacemen, the message continued, who would 
land in a flying saucer. Finally, in marked contrast to the secrecy 
attending the preparations for the saucer landing on December 1 7 
and 21, they not only were to notify the press of the expected 
event but also were to invite the public to be present. 

The receipt of this message renewed the activity of the believ- 
ers in the Keech house. The leaders set about preparing another 
press release and, once more, they alerted newspapers and press 
associations. The exact contents of this press release are unknown 
to us, and the evidence we have about it is equivocal at two 
points: first, it is not clear whether the visiting spacemen were 
to be visible to everyone or only to the chosen few; second, the 
release may have stated that the believers definitely would be 
picked up by the saucer, or it may have only alleged that such a 
pickup was possible. If, for both of these cloudy points, the sec- 
ond alternatives are correct, then this press release marks the first 
time that Mrs. Keech's messages make a prediction that cannot be 
disconfirmed. If the first alternatives are correct, then the ensuing 
hubbub was one more disconfirmation in a. long series. 

Faithfully at six o'clock on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Keech, the two 
Armstrongs and their children, Edna and Mark Post, and Bob 
Eastman gathered on the street in front of the house. The invita- 
tion issued through the newspapers had attracted about two hun- 
dred people, who milled about in a somewhat unruly fashion while 
the little band sang their carols. They sang and waited for the 
186 



AN UNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 

spacemen for perhaps twenty minutes before they retreated to the 
living room. 

The clearest description of this event and the explanation of 
what the believers felt had happened can be found in excerpts 
from a verbatim transcription of one interview that a reporter 
had with Dr. Armstrong over the phone. This interview took 
place shortly after the group had re-entered the house and is 
typical of several other such interviews that evening. It lasted 
almost an hour, but we shall reproduce here only those parts of 
it that are most enlightening: 

NEWSMAN: Dr. Armstrong, I wanted to talk to you with reference 
to this business about — you know — your calling the paper to 
say you were going to be picked up at six o'clock this evening. 
Ahh, I just wanted to find out exactly what happened. . . . 
Didn't you say they sent a message that you should be packed 
and waiting at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: No. 

newsman: No? No, I'm sorry, sir. Weren't the spacemen sup- 
posed to pick you up at 6 p.m.? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, there was a spaceman in the crowd with a 
helmet on and a white goAvn and what not. 

NEWSMAN: There was a spaceman in the crowd? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, it was a little hard to tell, but of course at 
the last when we broke up, why there was very evidently a 
spaceman there because he had his space helmet on and he had 
a big white gown on. 

NEWSMAN: Oh, the spacemen were there? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, thcrc was one there. 

newsman: One spaceman there. And what did he say? Did you 
talk to him? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: No, I didn't talk to him. 

newsman: Didn't you say you were going to be picked up by 

the spacemen? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: No. 

newsman: Well, what were you waiting out in the street for 
singing carols? 

187 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, wc Went out to sing Christmas carols. 

newsman: Oh, you just went out to sing Christmas carols? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, and if anything happened, well, that's all 
right, you know. We live from one minute to another. Some 
very strange things have happened to us and — 

newsman: But didn't you hope to be picked up by the space- 
men? As I understand it — 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Wc wete willing. 

newsman: You were willing to be picked up the spacemen. But 
didn't you expect them to pick you up? As I understand it, you 
said that you expected them to come but they might change 
their minds, that they're unpredictable. Is that correct? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, ahh, I didn't see the paper, what was actu- 
ally printed in the paper. 

NEWSMAN: Well, no, but isn't that what you said? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: We had some instructions to pass on the news, 
ya, that the spacemen possibly would pick us up. 

newsman: Who gave you these instructions? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, they came through our channel from San- 
anda — 

newsman: Oh, but now, didn't he [Sananda] tell you you were 

going to be picked up by the spacemen? 
DR. ARMSTRONG: Ahh, Well now, let's see. I don't think he made a 

promise to that effect, no. 
NEWSMAN: Didn't he say maybe they'd pick you up at 6 p.m. 

Christmas Eve? 
DR. ARMSTRONG: No, WC wcTC told to tclI the press that. 
NEWSMAN: Oh, you were told to tell the press that? But you 

didn't really believe it yourself? 
DR. ARMSTRONG: WeU, I Said it could happen. 
NEWSMAN: Uhuh. Well, how do you account for the fact that 

they didn't pick you up? 
DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, as I told one of the other news boys, I 

didn't think a spaceman would feel very welcome there in that 

crowd. 

NEWSMAN: Oh, a spaceman wouldn't have felt welcome there. 
i88 



AN UNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 

DR. ARMSTRONG: No, I don't think so. Of course, there may have 
been some spacemen there in disguise, you know. We couldn't 
see. I think — I think that's quite possible. 

newsman: There might have been some in the crowd? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Ya, that's right. 

NEWSMAN: Uhuh. Ahh — so you think the reason the spacemen 
didn't pick you up was that they were scared away by the 
crowd? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, I Wouldn't say they were scared, but then, 
I guess the general has the right to change his plans if he 

wants to. 

NEWSMAN: Uhuh, but do you think it's conceivable that they 

were scared away by the crowd? 
DR. ARMSTRONG: Oh HO, they weren't scared away, but a thing like 

that, it's, shall we say, expedient? 
NEWSMAN: Expedient? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Ya — 

newsivun: In what way? 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, I mean to get the mob reaction to that kind 
of a setup before they actually decide to do anything. 

newsman: In other words, so they wouldn't start a riot or some- 
thing, if they picked you up then. 

DR. ARMSTRONG: Well, heavens, they've had riots over less than 
that, you know. 

This melange of incompatible and halfhearted denial, excuse, 
and reaffirmation was typical of the untidy fashion in which the 
members of the group attempted to explain this happening of 
Christmas Eve. In interviews with the press and discussions among 
themselves, the believers made two major points. First, they as- 
serted that the spacemen had appeared at the carol-singing but 
were invisible or unknown to the mob of nonbelievers. Edna Post 
in a phone conversation with Bertha Blatsky enthused, "We could 
see them surrounding us last night, some of his foot helpers — it 
was real thrilling. I could spot very serious faces in the crowd, 
just forming a ring around us. Marian says to tell you it was as if 

189 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

we had the Notre Dame football team surrounding us." Secondly, 
they said that the spacemen had restrained themselves from land- 
ing their saucers for fear of creating a panic in the rowdy mob of 
onlookers. 

On December 25 a new participant observer was introduced 
into the group. We shall describe his reception in some detail, for 
it stands in vivid contrast to the treatment accorded the Lake City 
observers who first called in October and November. They were 
received politely, but somewhat distantly. The new observer was 
dined, wooed, and made the center of attention. As the reader 
will see, the warmth of his welcome is attributable in good meas- 
ure to the hope and expectation that he, at last, would bring the 
group their orders, would give them a plan for their future. Had 
he done so, it would also have provided independent verification 
of their beliefs. 

The new observer knocked at the door at about i p.m. on 
Christmas Day, and asked to speak to Mrs. Keech. He was ushered 
inside where he immediately became the center of attention. Let 
him tell the story in his own words: 

"Mrs. Keech asked me why I had called and I told her I had 
read about her in the papers and wanted to know more. Mrs. 
Armstrong, Bob, and Edna picked up pads of paper and with 
pencils poised were apparently ready to record our conversation. 

"The significance of this didn't immediately occur to me al- 
though I realized quite soon that what they were looking for was 
a sign of some kind, and they thought I had a special kind of 
message to deliver. ... I said that one of my courses had dealt 
with a little astronomy and that this had aroused my interest in 
space travel and that I wanted to learn more about this if I could 
and that I would be interested in anything that she could tell me 
about her experiences. At about this point she looked at me and 
suggested that there were perhaps some things that I could tell her 
and this increased my feeling of being on the spot and having to 
give her some kind of answers. I, of course, said that I had noth- 
ing to tell her and that I knew nothing, but wanted to learn. 

"At this point, Mrs. Keech asked someone to call Tom. He 
190 



AN tXNFULFILLED PROPHECY AND AN ELATED PROPHET 

came in and we were introduced and he looked at me with what 
I took to be a certain look of expectation. He too began to ques- 
tion me. ... I felt my dilemma steadily increasing but I couldn't 
see what else to do other than to play it as straight as possible 
because it seemed that no matter what I did or what I said, it was 
going to be significant. . . . 

"The role that I assumed in keeping with Dr. Armstrong's 
questioning of my interest in the group was that of a person who 
was somewhat confused by the times and was lonely and sought 
guidance and understanding of many of the things that are hap- 
pening today. In connection with my feeling lonely, Dr. Arm- 
strong asked me if I had ever felt as if I didn't belong on this 
planet, if I had been bom on some other planet. I answered, of 
course, that I had no knowledge of my having been bom on any 
other planet, but simply that I thought that I had been bom in the 
same way that everyone else is bom. This brought a smile from 
Mrs. Keech who looked at me again with a very knowing look. . . . 

"Sometimes when the attention shifted back to me, Mrs. Keech 
would make some reference to the fact that she was impressed 
by my presence on Christmas day— statements like, 'This is the 
happiest Christmas we've had because YOU have come.' And 
such other statements." 

Exhausted, the new observer left at 4: 30 p.m. That evening in 
a phone conversation with a sympathetic friend, Marian said, 
"And we had a very, very, very, very, very special guest for din- 
ner. He came in and dined with us today, so it has been the most 
joyous, the most joyous Christmas that any of us have ever 
known." 

The same observer returned the next day to face a similar re- 
ception. He reports: 

"They seated me in a position of some prominence in the room 
again, in terms of chair arrangements, and turned their attention 
to me again. . . . Dr. Armstrong looked at me expectantly and 
the others in the group seemed to look at me expectantly and 
Dr. Armstrong said, 'I'd like to hear from you. Haven't you some- 
thing to tell us?' And I said, 'Why no, I don't know of anything 

191 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

I have to tell you.' And he said, 'Well, can't you sing us a song?' 
and I said, 'Why no, if you knew what kind of a singing voice I 
have, you wouldn't want me to sing a song.' And he said, 'Well, 
can't you tell us a story?' and he kept pressing me, and Mrs. Keech 
concurred with him in this and kind of wanted to urge me and 
other members of the group also said this." 

The next day Mrs. Keech had her first chance to converse with 
the observer alone. He describes their talk: 

"She said in a very, kind of last-straw voice— that's the only 
way I can describe it — she seemed sort of at the end of her rope 
and she said, 'Are you sure that you have no message for me? 
Now that we are alone, we can talk.' And I said, 'Gee, I'm sorry, 
I just don't know of any message that I have.' She said, 'Do you 
feel that there are any disturbing influences around? Anything 
that's disrupting your giving me a message?' I, of course, an- 
swered that I wasn't aware of anything of this sort." 

This observer continued to visit the group approximately every 
other day for the next two weeks. All through this period those 
who remained in the Lake City group persisted in viewing him as 
someone special — a space brother who was not telling all he knew. 

The experiences of this observer well characterize the state of af- 
fairs following the Christmas carohng episode— apersistent, frustrat- 
ing search for orders. At this time too, an array of forces extrinsic 
to the group began to scatter the members widely. Marian Keech 
and the Armstrong family left Lake City and the Post household 
became the center of what little activity there was thereafter. It 
became impossible for us to remain well informed of their activi- 
ties and beliefs, although some of the members continued to write 
us occasionally during the next couple of months and thus kept 
us abreast of at least the major developments in their lives. We 
shall describe the breakup of the Lake City group and the reasons 
for it later. In the next chapter we shall interrupt our narrative 
in order to take a closer look at how the events we have just 
described affected individual members of the group, and to draw 
together the evidence bearing on the main theoretical point of 
this book. 



192 



CHAPTER VII 



Reactions to 



Disconjirmation 



In presenting the sequence of events immediately before and 
after December 21, we have focused on those events that were of 
significance to the entire group in Lake City, and, with the excep- 
tion of Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong, we have not detailed the 
impact of these events on the behavior and beliefs of the indi- 
vidual members. We shall try to remedy this omission by describ- 
ing in the first part of this chapter the immediate and long-term 
effects of the series of disconfirmations on each member. The last 
part of the chapter is, from a theoretical point of view, the heart 
of the study, for there we shall summarize and integrate the evi- 
dence relevant to an evaluation of our hypothesis. 

Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong. Throughout the period of dis- 
confirmation Mrs. Keech and Dr. Armstrong remained unwaver- 
ingly firm in their conviction. Though they searched desperately 
for messages that might guide them, never during this entire time 
did either of them utter a serious word of doubt or indicate in 
any way that they might have been wrong. Indeed, their sublime 
faith remained firm long after the Lake City group had dispersed. 
Even after Mrs. Keech had left Lake City, she continued to re- 
ceive messages from Sananda which she relayed to her fiock by 
mail. 

Dr. Armstrong and his family returned to Collegeville where 
they sold their house and prepared to leave town. On January 12, 
their last afternoon in Collegeville, one of our observers talked 
with them and reports: "Dr. Armstrong seemed highly confident 
as to the future; he was in as good spirits as I can remember. Mrs. 
Armstrong, too, was in fine spirits, bubbling over with the plan. 

193 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Everything was still going according to the plan, the plan im- 
posed on them as messengers of the supernatural." As to the 
future, Dr. Armstrong said, "Being an M.D. is a lot of work and 
I kind of enjoy lecturing and talking to people." He intimated 
that he would not be looking for a job or trying to practice the 
medical profession but would go out lecturing and attending 
meetings in order to propagate the faith. Their immediate destina- 
tion was a meeting of the Casey Foundation in Virginia, an insti- 
tution named for the man who, Dr. Armstrong commented, had 
done so much of the basic work in reincarnation. 

This impression of the doctor's intention to go out to preach is 
confirmed in a letter from Clyde Wilton to one of the observers 
in which, on February 8, he commented: "I wrote Tom recently 
and suggested that he apply at one of the plants here if he was 
now looking for a job. He replied that he would not be accepting 
permanent employment in the foreseeable future as he was tour- 
ing around the country contacting people interested in the teach- 
ings we have received, etc. He said he was traveling with Daisy 
and people who had sources of contact." Quite evidently, the doc- 
tor had given up medicine for the role of itinerant proselyter. 

We have only one additional item of information concerning 
Armstrong's persistent conviction. In early May, some five months 
after the prediction of catastrophe, Dr. Armstrong reappeared 
briefly in CoUegeville. During his travels he had received a mes- 
sage through Ella Lowell that he would be picked up by flying 
saucer at the garage ramp of the largest hotel in CoUegeville. All 
through one night, the doctor, his wife, his daughter Qeo, and 
Ella Lowell waited. Indeed their faith was boundless and their 
resistance to disconfirmation sublime. 

Daisy Armstrong and Edna Post. Mrs. Armstrong and Mrs. 
Post had served as handmaidens of the group. All through the 
period from December 1 7 to the 26th, they had acted as servants, 
cooks, dishwashers, and secretaries. They were loyal, devoted 
disciples who beamed when Mrs. Keech or Dr. Armstrong praised 
them and were distraught if criticized. For example, early in the 
evening of December 20, Marian spoke to Daisy Armstrong about 
194 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 
a recent lesson that Daisy had received; Daisy reported that she 
had burned it and Marian replied that she should not have done 
so. Daisy seemed quite upset at learning she had made a mistake. 
Jokingly, Marian commented: "Well, I guess you're just not 
going to get a seat [on the saucer] then." The doctor laughed too, 
adding: "I guess we'll have to leave you out." Daisy broke down 
completely and cried for almost half an hour, sobbing over and 
over that the lessons were precious to her— as precious to her as 
they were to anybody else and she hadn't wanted to bum the 
lesson; she had wanted to keep the lesson but she had thought it 
should be burned. 

Both women were greatly upset by the disconlirmation of the 
morning of December 21, Edna Post being hit especially hard. 
Nevertheless, throughout the period of disconfirmation both these 
women unquestioningly accepted the messages, predictions, and 
rationalizations that Mrs, Keech and Dr. Armstrong worked out 
for the group. Both of them simply repeated the rationalizations 
of disconfirmation that the leaders elaborated and glowed over 
the wonder and beauty of the plan. Their faith, too, remained 
firm all through the time that we maintained contact with them. 
On January 24, Daisy while en route to Virginia wrote to one 
of the authors, saying, "Believe me, we certainly have had divine 
guidance all along the way. We get orders from 'upstairs' en 
route." And "Give our 'best' to the other two from Minneapolis, 
Tell them we know the future is 'rosy.' We've been promised 
many wonderful things and we still know who our Director is. 
We go as his guests — his representatives." 

And Edna, too, remained faithful. In a letter dated January 30, 
she reported that she had been writing to Marian for messages; 
and she evidently continued in her self-appointed secretarial role, 
for she also wrote, "I have typed up many of the tapes that I 
thought might be helpful to members of the group and am trying 
to serve as a sort of 'clearing house' or communications center, to 
the best of my ability," 

Mark Post. Of the younger disciples, Mark was, on all counts, 
the most ardent. He subjected himself completely to the discipline 

195 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Marian Keech imposed on him. For several days he adhered to a 
diet prescribed by Marian and lived solely on nuts. He received 
orders from the Guardians not to leave the house for any reason, 
and, until the orders were rescinded several days later, he stayed 
indoors all the time. Between the 17th and the 20th of December 
he took a modest part in the affairs of the group but obediently 
and faithfully handled such chores as ansv/ering the telephone, 
receiving callers, and, when instructed to do so, lecturing to teen- 
agers about the beliefs of the group. The rest of his time he spent 
studying the lessons, playing cards with Cleo Armstrong, or simply 
sitting, waiting with mounting tension for the 21st to roll around. 

Mark may have had a period of doubt following the midnight 
saucer vigil on the 17th of December, although his immediate 
reactions to this can only be surmised since he had been sworn 
to secrecy about it; but shortly after the rationalization of the 
December 21 disconfirmation, Mark mentioned that for the past 
few days he had had some doubts about the truth of the proph- 
ecy. These doubts seem to have been laid to rest by what hap- 
pened on the morning of the 21st, however, and Mark was one 
of the first to telephone the newspapers to inform them of the 
"Christmas Message." On December 22, Mark busied himself as 
never before in removing all metal from his person; he threw 
away the metal band of his watch and made himself a leather one; 
he replaced his belt buckle by a leather thong; and he discarded 
a cigarette lighter that he dearly loved. It is not clear whether 
these actions betokened his intentions to be ever ready for a pick- 
up by saucer, or whether by this time he had come to share with 
Mrs. Keech and Daisy and Thomas Armstrong a general aversion 
to the presence of metal. 

Mark's zeal continued and, when we last heard of him, it was 
still high. When Marian, on December 26, was preparing to leave 
her house, a large quantity of lessons, notebooks, and messages 
were rather hastily dumped into a cardboard carton and given to 
the Posts for safekeeping. Mrs. Keech considered the contents of 
this box as the "secret books" and asked one of the observers to 
put a seal of protection on the carton. He meticulously tied the 

196 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

carton together and sealed it with the note "Seal of Protection — 
Do Not Open." In the letter from Edna Post on January 30, she 
wrote, "Mark said to tell you that his lessons were put in the box 
that is sealed shut and if it is ever convenient for him to get them 
back, he would appreciate it." Despite the fact that the box was 
in Mark's possession, he refused to open it without explicit permis- 
sion. He still believed. 

Cleo Armstrong and Bob Eastman. Cleo and Bob arrived in 
Lake Qty on the night of December 18. During the previous 
week they had spent much of their time with Ella LoweU, who 
had begun to undermine their belief in Mrs. Keech's prediction 
of disaster and salvation on the 21st. Ella Lowell never quite dared 
to renounce this date unequivocally, but she had strongly hinted 
that the flood might not occur. Though both Cleo and Bob were 
heavily committed to the December 21 prediction, they arrived 
in Lake City in a somewhat doubtful frame of mind. 

Between the i8th and the 20th, Cleo was an unhappy girl. She 
was upset and felt guilty at having left her brother and sister in 
CoUegeville. She did not feel at home in the Lake City group, 
most of whom were strangers and older than she, and were, she 
felt, gloomily unable to talk of anything else but the cataclysm. 
She was uncomfortable in this strained atmosphere and precipi- 
tated scene after scene with her parents in the course of which 
she attacked some aspect of their belief. For example, in a private 
lesson with Mrs. Keech, Cleo had received a number of messages, 
which she showed to her father. He attempted to discuss them 
with her but she broke out crying, repeating again and again, 
"But this is nonsense, it's nonsense, it doesn't mean a thing, it's 
nonsense." At another time, she and her father were discussing 
whether the phone calls made to the house were simply from 
jokers or were genuine messages and tests from the boys from 
outer space. Dr. Armstrong insisted that they were coded mes- 
sages and were part of the discipline. To this, with acid in her 
voice, Cleo retorted: "That's asinine!" These incidents, however, 
must be viewed against the background of her general acceptance 
of the belief system. Nor was her behavior at this time all one- 

197 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

sided, for she did engage in such activities as ripping the metal 
out of her clothes. 

Bob Eastman, too, was suriy and moody during the days before 
the 2 1 St. He amused himself chiefly by listening to tapes made by 
Ella Lowell and discussing her views with his mentor, Dr. Arm- 
strong. He was so sullenly quiet during the days preceding the 
2 1 St that it was impossible for the observers to assess his beliefs 
properly. His reactions to the December 2 1 disconfirmation, how- 
ever, were unique in the group. In the early hours of this crucial 
day, before the message resolving the disconfirmation had arrived, 
one member of the group asked, "What are the lessons of to- 
night?" Bob volunteered, "Impatient boredom." When asked, 
"Boredom with what?" he replied, "Waiting, waiting, always 
waiting — so many meetings, I've been to so many meetings and 
I no longer can figure out what is real information; what is true 
information." 

Shortly after the "resolution" message arrived, one of the ob- 
servers commented to Bob, "Well, it's been an interesting evening, 
hasn't it?" To which Bob replied, "Yeah, I'll say, interesting. The 
way it is around here your right hand doesn't know what your 
left hand is doing. Or if it does, it's a preconceived idea. I'm going 
to bed." 

Though both Cleo and Bob had been convinced believers earlier 
in the fall, they clearly seemed, at this time, somewhat more 
doubtful about the beliefs of the group. 

In the days following the 2 ist, their behavior took an astonish- 
ing turn. Though it might be most plausible to expect that they 
would give up their beliefs following disconfirmation, quite the 
reverse happened. On December 22, Cleo busied herself helping 
her father and Mark Post rid themselves of metal. She replaced 
buttons, made leather thong replacements for belt buckles, and 
so on. That evening, Marian Keech was called away for approxi- 
mately three quarters of an hour from an interview with two 
newspaper reporters. Cleo immediately stepped into the breach 
and took over completely. For this entire time, she presented the 
beliefs of the group and vigorously argued with the newspaper- 

198 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 
men. This was the very first time that Qeo had done any such 
thing. In CoUegeville, previous to the 2 ist, she had either avoided 
reporters completely or told lies in order to rid herself of them. 

A similar event took place on December 25 when again Cleo 
took a particularly active part in an interview a reporter was con- 
ducting with her father and Mrs. Keech. Events such as these 
would certainly seem to indicate not only markedly increased 
proselyting on her part but new-found confidence in her beliefs. 
Cleo's increased conviction seems to have persisted long after she 
returned to her classes in CoUegeville. On January 17, one of the 
observers had a discussion with Hal Fischer, the chief skeptic of 
the CoUegeville group. Hal reported that he had had an argument 
with Cleo and that Cleo was still firmly convinced about the pre- 
diction and Mrs. Keech's messages. The observer (who had lived 
in the Armstrong house for several days before Qeo left for Lake 
City) remarked, "Well, that's interesting. Before she went to 
Lake City she was a trifle skeptical." Hal replied, 'Well, she's 
firmly convinced now." 

Further evidence of the permanency of her change of heart is, 
of course, to be found in the incident in May when Cleo, then 
living in a college dormitory, joined her parents in waiting for the 
saucer. Possibly under the impression that it would be pointless, 
Qeo failed to get permission for an overnight absence. Her dor- 
mitory counselor, Susan Heath, formerly a devoted and con- 
vinced member of Dr. Armstrong's group, described the incident 
and commented, "I no longer believe this stuff, but Cleo sure does." 

Bob Eastman, at least temporarily, had a similar reaction. On 
the evening of December 22, one of the observers asked Bob how 
he felt about things now, to which Bob replied: "Well, I was 
really skeptical last night but since then we've had lessons, we've 
had messages, and I think I'm beginning to understand it and see 
the meaning of it all." When asked what he was planning to do 
next, Bob's answer was "Well, it depends on my orders. My par- 
ents think I'm crazy to be here over Christmas, but it depends on 
my orders. If my orders tell me to go back to Steel City, I will. 
If they tell me to stay in Lake City, I'll stay in Lake City." 

199 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Apparently Bob also found new confidence in the beliefs of the 
group after the major disconfirmation, although the disconfirma- 
tion following the Christmas Eve caroling seems to have put some 
strain on his faith in Mrs. Keech. His mood at that time is per- 
haps best indicated in a long-distance call he made to Kitty 
O'Donnell on December 25. Early in the call he sounds skeptical, 
but as he talks to the unbelieving Kitty he revises his stand and 
reaffirms his faith. 

bob: I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but since I've been around 

here I don't have much faith in Marian. 
kitty: You didn't get picked up, huh? 
bob: No, we haven't had any positive action like that. 
kitty: Well, I thought they were supposed to be out there — it 

said in the paper they were supposed to be out there singing 

Christmas carols at seven o'clock in the morning, or at night. 
bob: No, no, six o'clock last night. There's a lot behind all that 

though, it's hard to explain it, especially over the phone, but it's 

just a part of a whole big picture, that it's training for us. 
kitty: I'm glad you believe in it then, I don't — I'm all done with 

them, I'll tell you that much. 
bob: You really got into . a negative environment. 
KITTY: I don't think it's negative at all— I just have more faith in 

Ella Lowell, that's all. 
bob: Oh, she's a very fine woman, I enjoyed my three days with 

her very much, but I don't find that much difference between 

her and Marian. 
kitty: Well, I don't know. 

bob: It's interesting to hear your viewpoint on this now. 

kitty: Well, I don't know, but I just regret in a way, Bob — 
course I learned a lesson, but I just regret that I made such an 
ass of myself of giving up my money and stuff and I don't 
know — 

bob: You mean the disappointment of the zist. 

kitty: No, not necessarily, 'cause I never believed in it a whole 

lot anyway. I did to an extent, but I mean it was no surprise 

that it didn't come off. 



200 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

BOB: Oh. Well it was cooked for us until after we got an explana- 
tion of it. 

KITTY: Well, I am thankful for one thing, that I kept my name out 
of the papers, anyway. 

bob: Well, you know none of us wanted to, that's part of our 
training too; we were told to get into the papers. That's part of 
our humiliation process, I think . . . Everything that happens 
is with the sanction of the brothers. . . . 

KITTY: I wish you would tell me what you are doing. 

bob: I'm just waiting. I'm completely in their hands. 

kitty: Don't you believe anything that Ella Lowell has told you? 

bob: Sure, I believe everything that she told me — none of it con- 
tradicts anything I've learned at this end since then. 

How long Bob maintained his renewed confidence we do not 
know. Late in December, he returned to Steel City where he en- 
rolled in an electronics school and resumed his attendance at the 
stances of Ella Lowell. 

Bertha Blatsky and Clyde Wilton. Both Bertha and Clyde, 
though strongly committed and deeply involved, were unable to 
take as active a part in the affairs of the group between December 
1 7 and 2 1 as were the other central members. Fear of her husband 
restrained Bertha from regular attendance at Mrs. Keech's home 
during this period, while distance and concern for his family simi- 
larly handicapped Clyde. These same factors forced them to face 
the period following the major disconfirmation in isolation, sepa- 
rated from their fellow believers. This state of affairs probably 
prevented their full recovery from the disillusionment following 
disconfirmation. 

Throughout the history of the group. Bertha's attendance at 
Mrs. Keech's house, while spectacular, had been sporadic. She was 
able to visit the house only through some stratagem or through 
open disobedience of her husband's orders — orders that, as we 
have seen, became quite clear and firm early in December. During 
the critical days between December 17 and 21, Bertha put in her 
first appearance the evening of the 18th. She spent the night, 

201 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

leaving in the early morning of December 19 and returned that 
evening for a few hours. She showed up again in the early morn- 
ing of December 20, remaining until about 9 a.m. on December 
21. After this she saw no member of the group again until Jan- 
uary 7, when she came to Edna Post's home in Highvale. Between 
December 2 1 and January 7 she had only two contacts with any 
members of the group: a telephone conversation with Marian and 
Edna on the night of December 24 and another call to Marian 
the following week. Her absence during this period was nonvol- 
untary, forced on her by her husband. On January 7, he left town 
on private business and Bertha took advantage of this chance to 
rejoin the group. 

Bertha's state of mind during the critical pre-cataclysm days 
was one of inner turmoil and doubt, insecurity about her own 
powers and uncertainty about the prediction. On December 18, 
the following conversation, as described by the observer involved, 
took place: 

"Bertha talked a little about her husband and said that she had 
promised him to get out of this business after the 21st, that he 
was being very patient with her and letting her do pretty much 
as she pleased until the 21st and then she'd promised him to get 
out of this movement. She said, 'It's these doubts that are the 
worst.' When she mentioned the 21st, I sort of cocked an eye- 
brow at her and said, 'Well, you probably won't have to worry 
then about anything after that.' And she said, 'Oh, it's the doubt- 
ing that's the worst.' I said, 'Yes, I imagine it is pretty difficult,' 
and she confessed that she had been having a lot of doubts about 
the date and the prophecy and about her own role and I said, 'Yes, 
you mentioned on Tuesday that you were having trouble validat- 
ing your messages. Has that cleared up at all.'' And she said, 'No, 
it's the responsibility, you know. I have to make sure that what 
I'm saying is right and I just don't know. In this house it's easy 
not to have doubts, but when I get home alone or when I'm with 
my husband, I'm full of doubt, and I just don't know what to do.' 
And I said, 'Well, the only thing you can do is just stick with it 
and your doubts will resolve themselves one way or the other.' 
202 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

She said, 'Yes, by the 21st I won't have any more doubts left, I'm 
sure.' " 

Bertha's immediate reaction to the events of December 21 was 
one of exultation. Instead of trying to avoid publicity, she re- 
leased the secret tapes, volunteered to make new tapes for any- 
one, and, for the first time, spoke to a newspaperman. Her moment 
of exhilaration, however, was apparently soon over, for when she 
was once more able to see the group on January 7 she was a worn 
and distraught woman who reported that ever since she had left 
the group on December 2 1 she had been going through pure hell 
and her life had been a misery. She had spent the past weeks alone 
thinking through what had happened and re-examining her own 
role in the group. Her doubts had returned and multiplied. 

On the morning of December 18, Clyde Wilton had received 
a long-distance call from Marian Keech who urged him to come 
to Lake City at once. At first he seems to have been reluctant to 
leave his home, but he ended by obeying orders. Unable to get 
a plane that day, he did not arrive in Lake City until two o'clock 
the following afternoon. He stayed just one day, for Mrs. Keech 
received orders for him to return to his family on December 20. 

Although Clyde's commitment was less than that of other cen- 
tral members of the group, his investment in the ideology was 
still quite heavy. He had made the five-hundred mile trip to Lake 
City three times in the space of a month, always on orders re- 
ceived through Mrs. Keech and for the sole purpose of meeting 
with the group. He not only bore the expenses of these trips him- 
self, but lost pay for each day he was absent from his job, and 
these absences from work had begun to involve him in difficulties 
with his supervisors. His conviction about the ideology can per- 
haps be described best as sympathetic open-mindedness. He was 
the scholar of the group, intimately familiar with the lessons and 
teachings transmitted by Mrs. Keech. The beliefs seemed gener- 
ally acceptable to him, though he frequently demonstrated a need 
to relate these beliefs to his scientific knowledge, remarking on 
one occasion: "I guess we'd all like to have more evidence. We're 
being asked to take a lot on faith," 

203 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Clyde returned home on December 20. The only evidence we 
have about his reaction to the disconfirmation of the 21st is con- 
tained in two letters. In the first one, dated February 8, he de- 
scribes his own behavior on the crucial night: 

"On the night of December 20, 1 stayed up most of the night — 
dozing now and then. About 5 or 6 a.m. on December 21, I tele- 
phoned Marian and she had Tom read to me the message for the 
newspapers which had just been received. I wondered why we 
had been led to believe that a flood would occur if it were avoid- 
able or if it wasn't going to happen! Was there a good reason? 
Had the sources been having some fun with us? I don't know." 

Though it is difficult to say very much about Clyde's attitudes 
from this note, a subsequent letter indicates more clearly that his 
reaction to disconfirmation was disillusionment and confusion. 
On March 12, he writes: 

"I shall be reluctant to go out of my way for purposes which 
aren't clearer to me than the trips to Lake City were. I do have 
a feeling that important events or happenings are imminent — 
within the next few years or decades. Just what— I do not know. 

"Yes, I was disappointed in the outcome of events. I had been 
led to believe that perhaps the teachings were all true. Then when 
things turned out as they did, it left me wondering what part, if 
any, of the teachings might be true. The only one here to whom 
I could talk about the prediction, etc., was the wife of a friend 
of ours — she felt as confused as I did. 

"I think there is something to the teaching: strive for one's own 
knowingness. This is difficult and one never feels really sure ex- 
cept on relatively rare occasions." 

In many ways, Clyde's reaction was similar to that of Bertha. 
Both responded to disconfirmation with increased doubt, though 
neither was willing to give up altogether the beliefs of the group. 
Their reaction, then, was quite different from that of other cen- 
tral group members who responded to disconfirmation by remain- 
ing firm in their belief, and, in some cases, actually increasing in 
conviction. There is perhaps a clue to understanding this differ- 
ence in the fact that Bertha and Qyde alone were forced to spend 
204 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 
the days after the 21st in isolation from other group members. 
It is reasonable to believe that dissonances created by unequivocal 
disconfirmation cannot be appreciably reduced unless one is in 
the constant presence of supporting members who can provide 
for one another the kind of social reality that will make the ra- 
tionalization of disconfirmation acceptable. The extent to which 
even a brief contact with fellow believers helped to strengthen 
Bertha's beliefs and diminish her doubts is well illustrated by ex- 
cerpts from a letter that Bertha wrote to one of the observers 
shortly after seeing him and several members of the group at Edna 
Post's home on January 7: 

"Need I tell you what a comfort it was to have had you folks 
with me last evening. It was indeed an answer to a prayer which 
I had not really expected answered so soon. 

"It was a real demonstration to me that when the need becomes 
as great as mine was and that when directed toward the Good it 
cannot help but bring Good. I must admit there is so much I still 
would like to know, but I do know that it most likely is not the 
time, and when the time comes — all will be revealed — and it was 
so wonderful to be assured by people whom one cm trust even 
though one does not know why — that the forces of Light pre- 
dominated — and that is saying a lot. . . . 

"Well, I shall try to stand on my own two feet. The funny 
thing about it is that previously, I am the one that others leaned 
on — and now all of a sudden I am the one to need the help. And 
then I don't know what kind of help I need — there is just that 
longing — lost feeling, I guess. I suppose when I really get lost in 
doing things again and giving of myself that will be the answer. 
I had been holding myself in reserve, I guess and not putting 
enough in the Now as has been taught us." 

Kwt Freund. As we have pointed out in earlier chapters, Kurt 
was a firm, though usually not an outspoken, skeptic. Usually, 
he posed as a philosopher of the cosmos, whom nothing could 
surprise. He was convinced of the existence of flying saucers and 
of life on other planets but he admitted his grave doubts about the 
prediction, the messages, and the visits of "spacemen" to Mrs. 

205 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Keech's home. He maintained these attitudes through the critical 
days before the 21st. For example, on December 18 when the five 
boys claiming they were from Clarion showed up, Kurt was the 
sole vocal skeptic in the group, maintaining stoutly that these 
were not spacemen. "I saw nothing. They just looked like college 
kids to me. It looked as though they just came here for a lark," 
he insisted. 

His commitment to the group was correspondingly low. The 
sole indication of any sacrifice on his part was his assertion that 
he had given up a Christmas vacation trip to Arizona. When asked 
why he had done so, he said it was because he was too busy, al- 
though it is entirely possible that he simply wished to be present 
on December 21. 

During the December 17-21 period, Kurt showed up three 
times: the evenings of December 18, 19, and 20. He stayed all 
night on December 20, leaving just before the newspapermen 
started coming to the house. He never came back. 

His failure to reappear at Mrs. Keech's house would certainly 
seem to indicate that he had grown thoroughly disillusioned with 
this group and its specific beliefs, but in a conversation with one 
of the Lake City observers on February 24, Kurt praised Marian 
highly. Whether this reflects simple compassion or reveals some- 
thing about his attitudes of which we were previously unaware, 
we do not know. Our best hunch is that Kurt was not a true be- 
liever before disconfirmation and certainly not afterwards. Per- 
haps he felt that movements such as this one have their place in 
cosmic history and saw himself as a distant but interested observer. 

Arthur Bergen. Arthur, the young high school student, was 
convinced that flying saucers were real and that there was life on 
other planets, but he seemed also to have doubts about the pre- 
diction and associated beliefs of the group. He was generally shy, 
silent, and difficult to interview and our categorization of Arthur 
as having moderate conviction is based on far less information 
than for any of the people we have discussed so far. Symptomatic 
of his doubts is a conversation he had with an observer on De- 
cember 18, in which the boy stated that he "didn't know what to 
206 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

believe." He was uncertain whether Mrs. Keech's writings con- 
tained the truth and whether the cataclysm would actually take 
place on December 21. 

Much of his behavior, however, reflected greater conviction. 
He probably spent more time than any of the other group mem- 
bers listening to the tapes; during the frenzy of removing metal 
on December 20, he meticulously stripped tin foil from each stick 
of a package of gum he was carrying, and became quite upset 
when he discovered that he could not remove the metal tips from 
his shoes. His absorption with the question of the flood is demon- 
strated by the fact that he alone took the trouble to find out the 
exact time when dawn would break on the 2ist and informed the 
group of it. 

That his commitment was low seems unequivocal, for his sole 
sacrifice seems to have been his arguments with his parents about 
how late he could stay at Mrs. Keech's house and his description 
of these arguments make them seem not very serious affairs. 
When someone once asked Arthur if he had had any trouble with 
his parents, he said, "Oh, no, I have a very funny family. My 
mother worries and my father gets mad. I'm pretty much on my 
own but still I tell my mother not to worry and then she doesn't 
worry, and then my father gets mad because she doesn't worry, 
but I don't have too much trouble." 

Even allowing for adolescent bravado and assuming more dif- 
ficulty with his family than he admits, we are still faced with the 
fact that at every point during the December 17-21 period when 
Arthur was in conflict between staying at a meeting and getting 
home at approximately the hour he had promised his parents, he 
left for home. Clearly he was unwilling to face their possible 
anger in order to overstay his time at Mrs. Keech's house. 

During the December 17-21 period, Arthur put in his first ap- 
pearance on the afternoon of December 18, and returned daily 
after this until his departure at 2:30 a.m. the morning of Decem- 
ber 21. This was his last visit. He telephoned once thereafter but 
never came to the house again. 

He appears to have been disillusioned by the disconfirmation of 

207 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

December 21. Early in February, an observer spoke with him 
again and Arthur indicated that he no longer had faith in Mrs. 
Keech. He still believed in flying saucers, still believed in the pos- 
sibiUty of contact with outer space, but he had given up on Mar- 
ian and her beliefs. 

Summarizing the evidence on the effects that disconfirmation 
had on the conviction of group members, we find that, of the 
eleven members of the Lake City group who faced unequivocal 
disconfirmation, only two, Kurt Freund and Arthur Bergen, both 
of whom were lightly committed to begin with, completely gave 
up their belief in Mrs. Keech's writings. Five members of the 
group, the Posts, the Armstrongs, and Mrs. Keech, all of whom 
entered the pre-cataclysm period strongly convinced and heavily 
committed, passed through this period of disconfirmation and its 
aftermath with their faith firm, unshaken, and lasting. Cleo Arm- 
strong and Bob Eastman, who had come to Lake Qty heavily 
committed but with their conviction shaken by Ella Lowell, 
emerged from the disconfirmation of December 2 1 more strongly 
convinced than before; Cleo's change of heart seems to have lasted 
while Bob's may have been temporary. Bertha Blatsky and Clyde 
Wilton started out with some doubts. They reacted to disconfir- 
mation by persisting in their doubts and admitting their disillu- 
sionment and confusion, but still not completely disavowing Mrs. 
Keech and her particular beliefs. We have noted that both Clyde 
and Bertha were forced to face disconfirmation in isolation and 
have suggested that this factor may account for the sharp con- 
trast between their reactions and those of Cleo and Bob. 

We shall have an opportunity to examine the effects of isola- 
tion more closely in the next chapter, which is concerned with 
the effects of disconfirmation in the CoUegeville group. 

Resume of Proselyting Activities 
At this point we return to the theoretical considerations that 
stimulated our interest in Marian Keech and her associates, and in 
208 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

the following section we summarize the evidence that bears on 
our hypothesis. 

In Chapter I, we specified the conditions under which discon- 
firmation would lead to increased proselyting, and for most of 
the members of the Lake Qty group these specifications were 
satisfied. Most of the people in this group believed in Mrs. Keech's 
prediction and were heavily committed to this belief. Disconfir- 
mation was unequivocal and the attempted rationalization was 
never completely successful in dispelling dissonance. Finally, with 
the exceptions we have noted, the members of the group faced 
disconfirmation and its aftermath together. Conditions were ideal 
for testing our hypothesis. 

Undoubtedly, the reader has by now formed at least a rough 
impression of the extent to which the hypothesis is supported. 
With illustrative documentation we shall attempt to summarize 
the major differences before and after disconfirmation in pub- 
licity seeking, in personal proselyting, and in the extent to which 
the members of the group exposed their beliefs to outsiders. It 
should be noted now that with the possible exception of Dr. Arm- 
strong the believers never did directiy and indiscriminately go out 
to convert the world. Their techniques were gentler. Even at the 
height of proselyting their endeavors consisted largely of attempt- 
ing to attract attention to their beliefs, then trying to convert 
those who came to the house or telephoned. 

Publicity Seeking. Most dramatic, of course, was the precip- 
itous change in attitudes toward the press. Had the group been 
interested in carrying their message to the world and securing 
new converts, they would have been presented with a priceless 
opportunity on December i6 when representatives of all the na- 
tion's major news reporting services converged on the Keech 
home, hungry for a story to follow up the news break on Dr. Arm- 
strong's dismissal from the college. But the press got a cold, almost 
hostile, reception, and their most persistent efforts were resisted. 
In two days of constant vigil, the newspapermen succeeded in 
winning only one brief broadcast tape and one interview with 
Dr. Armstrong and Mrs. Keech — and that only after virtually 

209 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

forcing their demands on the leaders. A cameraman who surrepti- 
tiously violated the prohibition against taking photographs was 
threatened with a lawsuit. Between December i8 and the early 
morning of December 21 the numberless phone calls from re- 
porters were almost invariably answered by a flat, unqualified 
"No comment." 

This situation reversed itself with explosive immediacy within 
minutes after the group had developed the rationalization for the 
major disconfirmation on December 21. For the first time in her 
life, Marian Keech insisted on calling the newspapers to give them 
a story. No sooner had she put down the phone than Dr. Arm- 
strong and Mark Post took turns phoning every one of the major 
news services and local papers, rejecting all suggestions that one 
paper be given an exclusive story. On December 21 alone, Dr. 
Armstrong and Mrs. Keech made five tape recordings for radio 
broadcast. Within the next three days, Marian's messages were 
used as reasons for drawing up new press releases and lifting the 
ban on photographers. Twice more the press was called in and 
their reception was warm and friendly. Reporters were granted 
extensive interviews and photographers welcomed. The once- 
rejected suitor was hotly pursued. 

Personal Proselyting. Attitudes toward face-to-face attempts to 
proselyte had crystallized early in the history of the movement 
with the maxim "those who are ready will be sent" — a teaching 
shared by the Armstrongs, Mrs. Keech, Bertha Blatsky, and Ella 
Lowell. In effect, they preached and practiced caution: be dis- 
creet in talking about the beliefs, do not attempt to force people 
into belief. By early December an air of secrecy had enveloped 
the group and sentiments toward outsiders shifted to an even 
more extreme position — to almost an antiproselyting admonition: 
of those who come, speak only to the ones you are sure have been 
chosen. 

Before December 17, the group did indeed practice a cautious 
policy toward outsiders. The best documented instances of this 
caution are, of course, the experiences of the four observers and 
the authors in attempting to win entree dtuing the pre-cataclysm 

210 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

days. Only one observer had an easy time — the girl who came to 
the Armstrongs with a dramatic, invented dream. The remaining 
observers, who had more ordinary explanations of their interest, 
were treated well and their questions answered, but they were 
never exhorted, never on first contact invited back, and forced 
time and again to devise excuses themselves for coming back — 
treatment that would have discouraged a less purposeful outsider. 

On December i6 and 17, large numbers of visitors were at- 
tracted to Mrs. Keech's house by the newspaper pubhcity. Many 
of them were simply turned away; those permitted to enter were 
treated in a fashion similar to that described for the observers. 
Following the two disconfirmations on December 17, conspicu- 
ously fewer people were turned away and those admitted were 
treated in a decidedly more exhortatory manner as the group 
members presented their beliefs in a genuine attempt to persuade. 
Many of the visitors were directly invited to return. By Decem- 
ber 19, although there was still some selection at the door, almost 
everyone admitted to the house was declared to be among the 
chosen and vigorously exhorted. Finally, after December 21, al- 
most every visitor was admitted. The reception given the observer 
introduced into the group on December 25 is, of course, in strik- 
ing contrast to that received by the other observers. In part, his 
reception is attributable to their clear need for guidance; in part, 
to their hope of confirmation, so desperate that a complete stran- 
ger is nominated as one of the elect — a Guardian. 

Secrecy. By late November, the group had begun to shroud 
itself in a veil of secrecy. The Armstrongs burned all copies of 
the lessons and, in effect, dissolved the Seekers. These actions 
made effective proselyting in Collegeville very difficult, for there 
was no longer a central group to which interested outsiders might 
come. In Lake City, a password and a secret sign were introduced, 
partially as devices for identifying the chosen. These devices, 
combined with the admonition "speak only to those who are 
chosen," if rigidly followed would have made it certain that no 
new persons would be admitted. Though such secrecy was not 
absolutely adhered to, it did clearly dominate the behavior and 

211 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

the attitudes of the group in the weeks preceding December 17. 
During this time even the prediction of cataclysm was considered 
secret and neither Mrs. Keech nor the Armstrongs mentioned it 
once when they addressed the flying saucer club. Clearly, their 
secrecy tended to shut them oflF from the outside world. 

After December 21, this situation completely reversed itself as 
the group exposed its innermost secrets to the world, in effect 
saying, "See these wonderful things that have been given to us. 
Do you not wish to learn more?" Recorded tapes, which had 
been considered so secret that even members of long standing 
were forbidden to take notes on their contents, were released to 
anyone who might be interested and to network broadcasting com- 
panies. Mrs. Keech consented to receive messages for the report- 
ers and posed for the photographers holding in her hand an open 
copy of the "secret books." Most dramatic of all, of course, is the 
contrast in the behavior of the group as they awaited the coming 
of the spacemen before the major disconfirmation and afterward. 
On December 17 and 21, they shielded themselves completely 
from outsiders, and the innermost circle alone watched for saucers 
in the privacy of Mrs. Keech's back yard or living room. On De- 
cember 24 they not only informed the press, but invited the pub- 
lic to their Christmas carol vigil in the street in front of the Keech 
home. There is no doubt that, after disconfirmation, the members 
of the group made themselves far more available to outsiders, and 
thus to potential converts. 

The evidence on publicity seeking, personal proselyting, and 
secrecy leave no doubt that, for this group, as for the millennial 
movements discussed in Chapter I, proselyting increased meteor- 
ically following disconfirmation. 

Our comparison, so far, has involved contrasting proselyting in 
the weeks preceding disconfirmation with proselyting during the 
days following December 21. We must, of course, also be con- 
cerned with the level of this activity in the earlier days of the 
movement. For most of that period detailed consideration is un- 
necessary, since until the end of August proselyting was very 
slight. Between the end of September and the beginning of De- 
212 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 
cember, too, proselyting was relatively quiescent, for it was dur- 
ing those days that the twin principles of secrecy and "those who 
are ready will be sent" were taking root. 

In the first half of September, there was a brief but marked 
spurt of proselyting closely following the receipt of the messages 
predicting cataclysm. Several activities were initiated to spread 
the word. Dr. Armstrong, impressed with the importance of the 
predicted catastrophe, prepared and sent out two press releases. 
At the request of a reporter whose interest had been stimulated 
by these releases, Marian Keech gave one interview to the press. 
Dr. Armstrong introduced the Seekers to the teachings and, at the 
suggestion of a friend, Mrs. Keech read from the lessons one or 
two times to small groups at the Metaphysical Bookstore. All this 
took place within a two- or three-week period and represents, of 
course, a considerable proselyting effort which we have attributed 
to the initial impulse to warn the world of impending disaster. It 
should be noted, however, that these activities were initiated 
chiefly by one man — Dr. Armstrong. All through this period of 
activity, Mrs. Keech played a relatively passive role, in all prob- 
ability tacitly approving of Dr. Armstrong's activities but herself 
initiating few contacts with the larger world. Before the discon- 
firmation none of the other members of the Lake Qty group had 
ever engaged in large-scale proselyting. 

In sharp contrast, intense proselyting activity characterized al- 
most every member of the group following disconfirmation. For 
the first time in her prophetic career Marian Keech initiated tele- 
phone calls to the newspapers. Bertha Blatsky, in dread of her 
husband, had desperately avoided publicity before the 21st. On 
the morning of the 21st, she talked to reporters, released the se- 
cret tapes, and promised to record tapes for anyone who asked — 
including the National Broadcasting Company. Mark Post tele- 
phoned a number of the newspapers and was interviewed by sev- 
eral reporters. While she was still in CoUegeville, Cleo Armstrong 
had done her utmost to avoid reporters and, when forced to speak 
with them, had, half-ashamedly, attempted to convince them that 
hers was a completely normal family preparing to celebrate 

213 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Christmas in the usual fashion. After disconfirmation Geo lec- 
tured to reporters and boldly argued with them about the validity 
of the belief system. Even Edna Post and Daisy Armstrong, both 
painfully shy and eager to avoid the limelight, talked to many of 
the newsmen, posed for pictures, and took turns instructing some 
of the many visitors to the house. After disconfirmation, proselyt- 
ing became the popular pastime. 

The Persistence of Prediction. Though the focus of our study 
has been proselyting behavior, it is evident that proselyting alone 
does not exhaust the variety of reactions to disconfirmation or of 
mechanisms by which the dissonance consequent on disconfirma- 
tion may be resolved. We have noted that following the major 
disconfirmation, Mrs. Keech made additional predictions, and that 
with time there was a growing tendency on the part of the group 
to identify their visitors as spacemen. Though we did not antic- 
ipate these phenomena before starting the study, we believe that 
they are consistent with the theory from which our major hy- 
pothesis was derived. Proselyting, after all, is not the sole means 
by which support for a belief system can be won. If direct sup- 
porting evidence can be found, so much the better. It seems to us 
that these repeated predictions, in effect, represent a search for 
supporting evidence, for confirmation. Had the tape recorded "a 
pretty song by the boys' glee club of the Losolo," had a spaceman 
appeared on Christmas Eve, these events would indeed have been 
confirmation. It may be that further predictions were made in 
this group only because their proselyting activities were so lam- 
entably unsuccessful, failing to win the social support of even 
one serious convert. 

The notion of search for confirmation may also help us to un- 
derstand the insistence of the group on designating so many of 
their visitors as spacemen. Though one or two visitors had been 
identified as spacemen in the months before the disconfirmation 
of December 17, after disconfirmation not a day passed without 
two or three telephoners or visitors being nominated for the posi- 
tion. In a way, such designations are similar to predictions. If a 
214 



REACTIONS TO DISCONFIRMATION 

visitor had indeed been a spaceman, again there would have been 
confirmation. 

Search for confirmation, however, is not a sufficient explanation 
to account for the passion the believers showed for labeling space- 
men. Though in some cases they seemed content simply to iden- 
tify a "Clarion boy," more frequently such identification was a 
prelude to a plea for orders and messages. The experience of the 
observer introduced into the group after the Christmas Eve dis- 
confirmation is a particularly good example. For three successive 
days, the members employed every device they could think of 
to extract a message from him. It seems fairly clear that their in- 
tent on such occasions was to win guidance and direction. Floun- 
dering, increasingly disoriented as prediction after prediction 
failed, they cast about for clues, watching television for orders, 
recording phone calls the better to search for coded messages, 
pleading with spacemen to do their duty — all in a desperate at- 
tempt to discover a clearly defined next step on the path to salva- 
tion by saucer. 



2^5 



CHAPTER VIII 



Alone and Dry 



In THE preceding pages of this book, and especially in the last 
chapter, we have fully documented one instance of a curious 
phenomenon — the increase of proselyting following unequivocal 
disconfirmation of a belief. But in Chapter I it was made clear 
that our intention was not simply to show that such a phenom- 
enon can occur, but rather to go further and specify the condi- 
tions that will determine whether or not it will occur. The five 
conditions we listed were these: 

1 . There must be conviction. 

2. There must be commitment to this conviction. 

3. The conviction must be amenable to unequivocal disconfir- 
mation. 

4. Such unequivocal disconfirmation must occur. 

5. Social support must be available subsequent to the disconfir- 
mation. 

These conditions were certainly present for most of the persons 
in the Lake City group. But simply showing, as we have done, 
that these five conditions were present and the phenomenon oc- 
curred is still not sufiicient. We would also like to be able to show 
that if any of these conditions do not hold, the phenomenon will 
not occur. There were, indeed, some hints along these lines in the 
last chapter. For Arthur Bergen and for Kurt Freund, whose com- 
mitment was not very strong, disconfirmation led to discarding 
the belief rather than to increased proselyting. Thus there is a 
bit of evidence that conditions i and 2 are, indeed, necessary con- 
ditions. 

There was also a hint, although a weak one, that condition 5 is 
a necessary one. Two people. Bertha Blatsky and Qyde Wilton, 
216 



ALONE AND DRY 

who faced all or most of the period following the disconfirmation 
in isolation began to lose faith and showed no desire to proselyte 
when apart from the group. For the purpose of further strength- 
ening our evidence concerning the importance of condition 5 we 
will now turn to a consideration of the impact of the disconfirma- 
tion on the believers from Collegeville, most of whom also faced 
disconfirmation in isolation. If condition 5 is indeed necessary, 
their reaction should be quite different from the one we have ob- 
served in Lake Qty. 

Early in December, Dr. Armstrong had instructed the student 
members of the Seekers simply to go about their own affairs and 
wait for whatever might happen on the day of the cataclysm. If 
they were among the chosen, they would be picked up wherever 
they were. Consequently most of the members scattered to their 
homes for the Christmas vacation. This dispersion, though fortu- 
nate in that it allowed us to test the importance of the isolation 
factor, did enormously complicate the problems of observation. 
Consequently, the data on the reactions of the Collegeville stu- 
dents to disconfirmation are scanty and, in large part, were ob- 
tained retrospectively when the students returned to college. 
Since most members faced disconfirmation in isolation, we shall 
describe the impact of December 2 1 separately for each member 
for whom data are available. 

Kitty O'Dofmell. Of those members of the Seekers who did not 
go to Lake City, Kitty was by all odds the most highly committed 
to the prediction. She had given up her job, left home, and, as the 
crucial date drew near, had spent and given away all her money. 

Several days before the 21st, Kitty had moved into the Arm- 
strongs' house, where she and an observer were caring for the two 
young Armstrong children. Kitty was an isolated believer in that 
house, for none of her companions provided a supportive social 
environment. On December 20, as she had on previous evenings, 
Kitty insisted on sleeping in the master bedroom so she would be 
close by the telephone in case her orders should come through. 
On the morning of the 2 ist she rose at 7: 30 to listen to the news 
broadcast from Lake City. Her immediate reaction, our observer 

217 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

noted, was one sentence. She said simply, "Well, I guess nothing 
happened in Lake City," and lapsed into silence. At about nine 
o'clock the Armstrongs telephoned from Lake City and Mrs. 
Armstrong read to Kitty the "Christmas Message" which ration- 
alized the disconfirmation, and it is clear that she understood its 
meaning. When the reporters started arriving at the house, Kitty 
ignored them and seemed greatly concerned about getting to Steel 
City to see Ella Lowell. She left the house remarking, "I'll be 
seeing you — maybe," and indicated that she would not be coming 
back. The remainder of that day she was part of a group at Mrs. 
Lowell's, surrounded by people who had always been skeptical 
of Marian Keech's prediction. 

By December 26 she was declaring her own skepticism openly, 
as we have already seen in her telephone conversation with Bob 
Eastman, who was still with the group in Lake City. In the course 
of this conversation, portions of which we have already quoted, 
Kitty makes such statements as these: "I'm glad you believe in it 
then. I don't — I'm all done with them, I'll tell you that much." 
"I just regret that I made such an ass of myself giving away my 
money and stuflf ..." And, finally, "I'm not going to go on like 
I was before, because I just don't believe in it — I mean I've had 
passages in the Bible pointed out to me — not by Ella Lowell 
either, but by my folks, and I just don't go for it any more." We 
could not ask for a more unequivocal statement: Kitty admits that 
she was wrong, declares herself to have been an ass, and washes 
her hands of the Armstrongs and Marian Keech and her predic- 
tions. 

Fred Furden and Laura Brooks. Both Fred and Laura were 
among Dr. Armstrong's most faithful disciples. They had attended 
almost every meeting of the Seekers, and had both quit studying 
for their courses — Fred had even failed an important examination. 
They were both in the bad graces of their parents because they 
maintained their faith in Mrs. Keech's beliefs and prediction in 
the face of angry parental opposition. In preparing for the coming 
flood Laura had thrown or given away a great deal of valued per- 
sonal property. Fred and Laura left Collegeville together, but 
218 



ALONE AND DRY 

separated to go to their respective homes for the Christmas holi- 
day, each to face disconfirmation in the company of their non- 
believing parents. 

On the night of the 20th, Laura later told one of the observers, 
she had "concentrated on living in the present." She had eaten 
her dinner and enjoyed it, watched television, and gone to bed at 
eleven o'clock "sort of scared inside." The next morning she lis- 
tened to every news broadcast she could find, read the news- 
papers, and waited for something to happen. When she learned 
that Dr. Armstrong had stated that God had intervened to pre- 
vent the cataclysm, she thought this "was kind of silly and just a 
way of trying to explain it all after it hadn't happened." Her im- 
mediate reaction, then, was skepticism and nonacceptance of the 
rationalization. 

When she returned to CoUegeville after vacation she visited the 
Armstrongs several times. On January 17 she discussed her beliefs 
and present attitude with one of the observers, saying that she felt 
her beliefs had not changed and that she had learned a great deal 
from the experience about human nature in general. She thought 
that everything that had happened was very important and had 
set people to thinking. On the other hand she flatly stated that she 
was no longer interested in the Seekers or in any other kind of 
meetings, and that she didn't want any more lessons. Moreover, she 
regretted having disposed of so many of her possessions. 

Although Laura maintains that her beliefs have not changed, it 
would seem that she is referring more to her general outlook than 
to her specific interest in Mrs. Keech's teachings, for she rejects 
the rationalization, shows no further concrete interest, and re- 
grets the actions that committed her. It would certainly seem that 
Laura's conviction had decreased markedly. 

When Fred Purden later described his behavior on the 20th and 
2 1 St, he said that he had gone to bed rather late but convinced 
that if he were going to be picked up by a saucer the spacemen 
would wake him. When he awoke the next morning, he was very 
surprised to find that nothing had happened. He was unable to get 
a newspaper until the evening of the 21st and it was then that he 

219 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

read the message that rationalized the disconfirmation. Our first 
contact with him after the Christmas vacation came on January 26 
when, our observer reports: 

"Fred seemed more at ease with the world. His face was more 
relaxed. He kept saying he was glad the disaster hadn't happened 
because he was glad to be alive. He said that this term he is doing 
well in his studies; last term he didn't do well at all because he 
didn't study at all. He says his faith has not changed, but that he 
sees no need to go to meetings. He thinks now that the flood was 
not ever intended to occur; that is, the space people just told us 
that there would be a disaster as a test for us, a test of our faith 
to see if we could stand up under the crisis. 

"He said that he did not believe as some believed that Mrs. 
Keech was a hoax; her messages were genuine, though she might 
not have been getting some of them right. He said: 'You know 
Dr. Armstrong believes there's going to be another disaster, the 
date only has been changed.' Then Fred went on to say that this 
disaster, according to Dr. Armstrong, would occur in maybe a 
thousand years or ten thousand years; it won't occur in our life- 
time. Fred says that he doesn't believe that this disaster will ever 
occur. The way he put it was: 'When you stop and think of it, it 
seems rather cruel to drown all these people just to teach them a 
lesson, doesn't it? The way to teach people a lesson, or the way 
to educate people is to educate them slowly; you can't educate 
them with one big jolt. And it seems rather silly to drown people 
and hope to educate them in the astral life. It doesn't seem very 
logical, does it?'" 

Purden seems considerably less disillusioned than does Laura 
Brooks. He perceives the nonoccurrence of the flood as a test 
rather than a disconfirmation, but he, like Laura, feels no need to 
meet with the group of former believers and, for the very first 
time, he is genuinely skeptical of some of Dr. Armstrong's beliefs. 

Susan Heath. Susan was among the most active of the Seekers. 
Besides attending all the meetings, she was the most industrious 
proselyter in the student group, even working away at convincing 
others after Dr. Armstrong had formally banned such activity. 
220 



ALONE AND DRY 

She had also made some sacrifices for the belief system. She had 
stopped participating in student religious activities because the 
adult counselors at the church were opposed to Dr. Armstrong's 
teachings; and she had given up a close friendship with her skep- 
tical roommate rather than give up her belief. 

Susan had gone home for Christmas, taking with her another 
member of the Seekers whose conviction and commitment paral- 
leled her own. When our observers interviewed Susan on Decem- 
ber 27 (we have no data at all concerning the reactions of her com- 
panion since the observers were unable to contact her), Susan 
described her actions on the fateful morning of the 2 ist as follows; 

"When Tuesday morning rolled around, I just listened to the 
nine o'clock news and went back in the bedroom and waked my 
girl friend and told her all about it. Then we talked about it for 
about half an hour and then came out and had breakfast just as 
though nothing had happened. Then we continued on to sit 
down and pick this stuff apart." 

Their discussion apparently centered around a comparison of 
the doctrine of the Seekers and that of Christianity, for Susan re- 
ports having discussed with her fellow Seeker such topics as the 
Apostles' Creed, the Trinity, and the celestial and terrestrial forms 
of Jesus Christ. The reconciliation they effected between Chris- 
tian doctrine and the beliefs of the group appears to be largely 
a rehash of some of Dr. Armstrong's ideas. As Susan sums it up: 
"From what I gather, Christ has had several lives since He was 
here on earth as Jesus, and now it just so happens His name is 
Sananda and He is living on a different planet, probably a planet 
with more people of higher development but not as high as San- 
anda." 

Although this flight into theology tells us almost nothing def- 
inite about Susan's immediate reaction to disconfirmation, it seems 
reasonable to conclude from the general nature of the discussion 
that Susan was still trying hard to maintain her belief. During her 
conversation with the observers, Susan volunteered that she had 
written to Dr. Armstrong a few days after the major disconfirma- 
tion: 



221 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

"I asked him if we could possibly write a long article, perhaps 
a magazine article, explaining as well as we could what this was 
that we believe in, because people have the craziest ideas of it. 
Trying to piece things together — I mean, if it's all right with 
higher forces and so on. I'd also like to know if it's all right to 
talk to more people who know nothing about it but realize we're 
in the group. They have questions and just how much can we talk 
about it? Can we show them the lessons and things like that?" 

When she was asked if she herself would like to talk to others, 
Susan indicated that she had already spoken to a few people. She 
said she had several times "tried to correct the crazy ideas" that 
outsiders had formed about the group from reading the news- 
paper stories, and she further described an encounter she had with 
an interested student nurse: "I asked her if I could come around 
this last night. We talked over a lot of things. It was all connected 
with flying saucers. I told her about exactly what had happened — 
I just made clear what the papers said. I cleared her up on a lot 
of that." 

Although even before disconfirmation Susan had been an active 
proselyter, her desire to persuade others appears to have intensi- 
fied after December 21. Not only does she talk to people, but, 
Hke the believers in Lake Qty, she shows an unprecedented urge 
to publish the views of the group to the world at large. She cer- 
tainly appears to have maintained the firmness of her beliefs too, 
at least up through the end of December. Susan Heath's reaction 
to disconfirmation closely resembles that of most of the Lake City 
group. Like them, but unlike the other Seekers, she had the social 
support of a fellow believer on the crucial day following discon- 
firmation. 

Just how long her conviction remained strong we do not know, 
but it finally dwindled. Our next contact with Susan was in May 
and by that time she had become an open skeptic. When Cleo 
Armstrong and her parents waited all night in Collegeville to be 
picked up by a flying saucer, it was Susan who informed our ob- 
servers of this event, and who laughed at the whole aflPair, declar- 
ing that she now saw many contradictions in the belief system and 
222 



ALONE AND DRY 

that she definitely didn't accept the rationalization for the non- 
appearance of the flood. "Cleo believes this stuflF," said Susan, "but 
I don't." 

George Scherr. George was another faithful Seeker both in at- 
tending meetings and in paying calls at the Armstrong house at 
other times. He had committed himself to the extent of telling 
his skeptical friends and parents of the prediction and defending 
his beliefs publicly. In private, however, he had expressed some 
doubts to the observers. 

George lived with his parents in Collegeville during the Christ- 
mas holiday and, in the days prior to the 2 ist, he was in continual 
contact with the residents of the Armstrong house — the observ- 
ers, Kitty, the Armstrong children, and (until the i8th) Cleo and 
Bob Eastman. Ever since the story had broken in the papers, 
George had been in difficulties with his parents and felt it neces- 
sary to mislead them on the night of the 20th by telling them he 
had a date with a girl when actually he was going to the Arm- 
strong home. That night again, as on several others, he listened 
to Ella Lowell's Dr. Browning talking on tape. On the night of 
the 20th he stayed at the Armstrong house till well after midnight, 
fluctuating between anxiety about the imminent catastrophe and 
plans to visit Mrs. Lowell in Steel City the next day. Finally, he 
went home. 

In spite of going to bed late, George awoke in time to hear the 

earliest news broadcast on December 21. Unsatisfied by it and 
eager to talk to sympathetic people he telephoned one of the ob- 
servers to ask whether there was further information to be had. 
Again that evening he dropped in at the Armstrong house to dis- 
cuss the day's events and his views with our two observers who, 
with Kitty gone, were the only "group members" available to 
George. Obviously they could not give him the kind of support 
that a true group member might have, and, for all relevant pur- 
poses, George spent the day following disconfirmation in isola- 
tion. 

Three days later, George called one of the observers, who re- 
ports the conversation as follows: 

223 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

"George said he was beginning to wonder about the whole 
thing. When the sanity petition against Dr. Armstrong came up, 
he had just thought it wasn't the doctor who was crazy but the 
sister, who brought the action. But then when this latest business 
came up about singing Christmas carols out in front of the house 
in Lake City, George says he began to wonder. And he expressed 
the feeling that Armstrong had too blind a faith in Mrs. Keech. 
He said: 'I think the doctor is sincere. Maybe Mrs. Keech is mis- 
led by other spirits. I don't know what to think.' He said this 
several times." 

It appears that George was beginning to doubt more and more 
and he began to shy away from his connection with the Seekers. 
In discussing a projected visit to some relatives in another state, 
George made it clear that he did not intend to disclose the fact 
that he had been close to Dr. Armstrong. 

But George's faith seemed to return after a meeting with the 
Armstrongs on January i, for he later reported his feelings to our 
observers, who set down the interview as follows: 

"George Scherr said that he was present on the first of January 
when Ella Lowell was in Collegeville visiting the Armstrongs and 
had a seance. He said that Dr. Browning's talk was directed at the 
group but that he, George, felt it was directed personally to him. 
Before this he had been skeptical, although he had tried not to be. 
Now he was no longer skeptical. I asked him what he thought 
about the 21st and he said it was a test primarily for the Arm- 
strongs but also for the rest of the group." 

Thus, contact with the Armstrongs and with Ella Lowell, who 
may well have been supportive toward the Armstrongs on this 
occasion, seems to have bolstered George's faith. Whether this 
upsurge was permanent or temporary we do not know, for this 
is the last report on George. 

Hal Fischer. A convinced mystic and savant of the occult, Hal 
had from the very beginning expressed doubts about Marian 
Keech's prediction. Although he claimed to have studied her les- 
sons assiduously, he considered her a relatively inexperienced 
channel. He was the most challenging skeptic in the group. 
224 



ALONE AND DRY 

Hal too had gone home for Christmas and we know nothing of 
his behavior on the 20th and 2 ist. The only indication of his atti- 
tude is the tenor of two Christmas cards he sent before the 21st: 
one to the Armstrongs bore the brief inscription "December 21?" 
while a card to Susan Heath carried the notation "Will see you 
next term." 

The observers did not get in touch with Hal until January 17, 
the day following a gathering of a few of the former Seekers. Hal 
had attended and had some comments which the observers report: 

"Hal said that five or six people had attended and that he had 
had an argument with Cleo Armstrong. He said: 'I think she was 
duped by her parents,' Hal said Mrs. Keech was an amateur at 
getting messages, that it takes a long time to become a medium, 
and a great deal of work. He said he had seen the Armstrongs 
since he got back from vacation and that Dr. Armstrong explains 
that everything that happened was part of a great plan. Hal rather 
laughed and said: 'You know very well that anything that would 
happen he would say was part of the plan.' " 

It is almost certain that Hal had by this time given up whatever 
slight belief in Mrs. Keech's teachings and Dr. Armstrong's beliefs 
he might have had. To Hal, the leaders of the movement were 
amateurs. 

Of the fifteen people who were central members of the Col- 

legeville group, we have now presented evidence about how ten 
reacted to disconfirmation— six of whom we have just discussed 
and the four people who spent the crucial days in Lake Qty and 
whom we considered in the last chapter: Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong, 
Cleo, and Bob Eastman. For the remaining five members in Col- 
legeville we shall have little to say since the data on their reac- 
tions are fragmentary at best and we cannot draw any conclu- 
sions about their conviction. The Armstrongs' son, who had 
never believed firmly but who was committed to the ideology by 
his parents' actions, awoke on the morning of the 21st to listen 
to the news and then returned to bed where he remained, face to 
the wall and uncommunicative for almost the rest of the day. 

225 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

What he did have to say later attests to his fear of ridicule from 
his peers, and this seems to have been his chief reaction. About 
his conviction we have no evidence at all, for he effectively refused 
to discuss his beliefs with the observers. Of the four remaining 
members, we know too little to support even patent conjecture. 

Whatever the incUnations of these four unknowns, however, it 
is clear that in short order the Collegeville group fell apart. 
Shortly after Dr. Armstrong had left town in January an abortive 
attempt was made to bring the group together again, the occasion 
mentioned above. The only ones to appear at this meeting were 
George Scherr, Cleo Armstrong, Hal Fischer, Susan Heath, and 
the friend with whom Susan had spent December zi. A good 
share of the meeting was devoted to an argument between Hal 
and Cleo, the former reading excerpts from an article by William 
Dudley Pelley that attacked Marian Keech, while Cleo defended 
her. As far as we can learn, this was the last meeting to be held. 
In the following months our observers occasionally ran into for- 
mer members of the Seekers. They were usually greeted warmly 
but their attempts to talk about December 2 1 or the "old days" 
were usually unsuccessful. Dr. Armstrong's former disciples did 
not wish to talk about the whole affair and seemed to want to put 
all of it behind them. 

It is clear that the effects of disconfirmation on the Collegeville 
members were quite different from those in Lake City. Review- 
ing the evidence on the six people for whom we have adequate 
information we find that Kitty O'Donnell unequivocally declared 
herself wrong; Hal Fischer, ambivalent before the 21st, afterward 
outwardly mocked Dr. Armstrong and said the prediction was 
wrong; Laura Brooks claimed that her general beliefs were un- 
changed but wanted no more to do with the group and rejected 
the rationalization of the major disconfirmation; Fred Purden re- 
tained his general belief but had grown skeptical of Dr. Arm- 
strong's views on the flood; Susan Heath, who at first maintained 
her belief intact, by May was willing to admit that she no longer 
beUeved; and George Scherr, who at first reacted in a skeptical 
226 



ALONE AND DRY 

fashion, later, after a meeting with the Armstrongs and Mrs. Low- 
ell, renewed his faith. 

Eventually, then, three of these six people gave up their beliefs, 
two became more doubtful and only one, after a period of skep- 
ticism, maintained his faith. With the exception of Susan Heath, 
no one in the CoUegeville group appears to have done any pros- 
elyting following the disconfirmation. Indeed, the reverse seems 
to have occurred when Kitty O'Donnell left the Armstrong house 
just as soon as reporters began arriving and when George Scherr 
decided to conceal his membership in the Seekers. 

In summary, the effect of disconfirmation on the individuals 
from CoUegeville about whom we have data was (with the excep- 
tions noted) to decrease conviction and either to have no effect 
on proselyting or to inhibit it. This result is quite the opposite of 
the general pattern in Lake City, where proselyting surged up 
and there were only two defectors and two whose doubts in- 
creased. Thus, most of the CoUegeville group reduced the dis- 
sonance created by disconfirmation through giving up belief, 
whereas in Lake City the members held fast and tried to create 
a supportive circle of believers. 

Before we accept the differences between Lake City and Col- 
legeviUe as demonstrating the importance of social support fol- 
lowing disconfirmation, we must examine possible alternative 
explanations for these differences. We shall consider two such 
alternatives: differences in degree of commitment, and the effect 
of EUa Lowell's views on conviction. 

The simplest alternative is that the CoUegeville people were 
originaUy less committed than the Lake Qty people and could, 
therefore, more easily give up their beliefs in the face of hard 
reality. While degree of commitment is undoubtedly important, 
it certainly does not teU the whole story. Kitty O'Donnell was 
certainly as heavily committed as many in Lake City. Laura 
Brooks, who had given up studying, given away her possessions, 
and faced the scorn and criticism of her classmates and parents 
was probably as heavily committed as Bob Eastman. Yet Kitty's 

227 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

conviction vanished after disconfirmation, Laura's decreased, and 
neither showed the slightest inclination to proselyte. 

During the last days before the cataclysm, Ella Lowell had 
strongly suggested that the predicted flood might not occur. We 
know that this weakened the conviction of Cleo Armstrong and 
Bob Eastman as well as Kitty and George Scherr. Though there 
is no evidence to this effect, it is possible that it may have affected 
other members of the CoUegeville group the same way. Indeed 
the conviction and desire to proselyte of Kitty and George were 
seriously weakened immediately following disconfirmation. An 
explanation in terms of weakened conviction is not entirely satis- 
factory, however, for Cleo and Bob, who went to Lake City, in- 
creased markedly in strength of conviction and desire to pros- 
elyte after disconfirmation. 

Although lesser commitment and weakened conviction may 
well have contributed to the diJSFerences between the Lake Qty 
and CoUegeville believers, it is clear from the counter-examples 
we have cited that these variables alone cannot account for the 
differences. Let us, then, examine more carefully the implications 
of the view that differences between the CoUegeville and the Lake 
City groups can best be explained by the factor of social isolation 
following disconfirmation. By isolation we mean simply the phys- 
ical absence of any fellow behevers. With the exception of one 
pair, each of the Seekers faced the morning of December 2 1 and 
the foUowing days at best in the company of people who voiced 
neither agreement nor disagreement; at worst with people who 
were openly opposed to the views of the Seekers. 

The effect of the news broadcast on December 2 1 was to estab- 
lish a clear dissonance between the conviction relating to the cata- 
clysm and the knowledge that Lake City had not been flooded. 
The degree to which such a dissonance can be reduced depends 
in good part upon the degree of outside support the individual 
can muster. Those Seekers who were surrounded by people with 
opinions openly opposed to their own heard arguments that could 
serve only to maintain or to increase their strong dissonance. It is 
scarcely surprising under such circumstances that doubts would 
228 



ALONE AND DRY 

increase and the beliefs would be discarded. Even those who did 
not face active opposition and were, in effect, alone in their be- 
lief could obviously not obtain the social support necessary to 
their acceptance of the rationalization as correct, a necessary con- 
dition for dissonance reduction to begin. 

In Lake City, on the other hand, most of the members were in 
the constant presence of fellow believers diuing the period fol- 
lowing disconfirmation. The Lake City people, who had social 
support, were able to accept the rationalization, tiius reducing 
dissonance somewhat, and they regained confidence in their orig- 
inal beliefs. The presence of supporting co-believers would seem 
to be an indispensable requirement for recovery from such ex- 
treme disconfirmation. 

Some of the deviations we have noted from the prevalent pat- 
tern of reaction in each of these two groups appear to be ex- 
plained by the factor of isolation. In the Lake City group, both 
Clyde Wilton and Bertha became less convinced after discon- 
firmation and both of them, we note, had to spend the period 
after disconfirmation in isolation from fellow believers. In Col- 
legeville, Susan Heath is the only person who, in the days immedi- 
ately following December 21, appears to be relatively unshaken 
in her belief and the only person who gives any indication of 
proselyting activity. She is also the one person among the six on 
whom we have data who spent the whole of December 21 in the 
presence of a co-believer. 



229 



Epilogue 



Late in December, an unfriendly world finally forced the small 
band of Lake City believers into diaspora. 

Trouble had been brewing for Mrs. Keech for quite a while. 
As we have seen, her beliefs in populated planets and interstellar 
spaceship travel had a strong appeal for school boys and all 
through the fall they flocked to her. As far back as October, their 
parents had lodged a complaint with the police who warned Mrs. 
Keech to cease and desist. This warning instilled in her a fear of 
police action that she never lost. 

Then, on December 24, the episode of the Christmas Eve carol- 
ing brought the indignation of Mrs. Keech's neighbors to a climax. 
The band of believers, no longer shy, gathered in front of the 
Keech home to make their final bid for salvation. As they caroled 
and waited for a spaceman to visit, they were ringed about by a 
crowd of some 200 unruly spectators, and police were called to 
control the mob. That evening the police were flooded with com- 
plaints against Mrs. Keech ranging from disturbing the peace to 
contributing to the delinquency of minors. Christmas was a day 
of peace but, on the morning of December 26, a warrant was 
sworn out making specific charges against Mrs. Keech and Dr. 
Armstrong. 

The police themselves seem to have been reluctant to set the 
legal machinery into motion. They telephoned Mrs. Keech's hus- 
band to inform him of the warrant and warned him that, unless 
meetings and gatherings at his home were at once brought to an 
end, they would serve the warrant. Furthermore, they strongly 
hinted that, once legal action began, the community could try to 
commit Mrs. Keech to a mental hospital. Mr. Keech passed along 
230 



EPILOGIJE 

the warning to the group remaining in the house— the Arm- 
strongs and their three children, Edna and Mark Post, Bob East- 
man, and Marian — and they prepared to flee at once. 

Mrs. Keech and the Posts, accompanied by Cleo Armstrong 
and Bob Eastman, went into hiding at the Post home in suburban 
Highvale where Marian remained incommunicado for the next 
two weeks. Her alarm was so great that she not only shunned 
the press and outsiders, but even made it difficult for established 
members of the group, such as Bertha Blatsky, to talk to her. 
Within a few days of their flight, Marian was lonelier than she 
had been in weeks, for Cleo Armstrong left Highvale to rejoin 
her father, who was having legal difficulties of his own, and Bob 
Eastman went with her. The Lake City group had dwindled to 
three persons. Bertha could not join them, for her husband was 
still threatening to have her put through psychiatric examination 
and, even though she longed for the companionship of fellow 
believers. Bertha did not dare to disobey her husband and risk 
investigations of her sanity. 

Even the small nucleus at the Post house did not remain un- 
disturbed long. Early in January, Marian Keech, still apprehen- 
sive about the police, decided to leave the Lake City area entirely 
and to join a dianetics center in Arizona. She traveled alone, under 
an alias, taking elaborate precautions not to be detected at the 
airport. Exactly what has happened to her since we do not know. 
For some time she continued to receive messages from the Guard- 
ians which she transmitted to other believers by mail and, in the 
few ordinary letters she wrote us, she still seemed to be expect- 
ing some future action or orders from outer space. 

By January 9, there was no group in Lake City. Edna Post con- 
tinued to communicate with many of the believers and tried to 
act as a clearinghouse for information. By mid-summer she had 
about decided to move to Steel City in order to join the group 
around Ella Lowell. Of Mark's activities we know nothing. 

Meanwhile, the Armstrongs had had their lives disrupted too. 
Within minutes of receiving the warning from the police in Lake 
Qty on December 26, the Armstrongs had packed their bags, 

23« 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

tumbled their two younger children into the car, and were on 
the road back to Collegeville. Their departure was hasty but not 
unplanned, for trouble had been gathering for them too. As indi- 
cated earlier. Dr. Armstrong's sister had been outraged at what 
she considered the Armstrongs' neglect of their two younger 
children in the days just preceding the 21st of December. Thomas 
and Daisy had left their children in Collegeville, but in good 
hands, when they themselves went to Lake City to prepare for 
the crucial events just before the flood was due. But Dr. Arm- 
strong's sister did not see it this way. On December 23 she filed 
a petition to have the two adult Armstrongs declared insane and 
to obtain custody of their children and their estate. Dr. Arm- 
strong was examined by two court-appointed psychiatrists. Their 
report was unequivocal: they declared that, although the doctor 
might have some unusual ideas, he was "entirely normal." The 
petition was summarily dismissed and the Armstrong family, in- 
tact, was free to do whatever they wished. The doctor and his 
wife decided that it was necessary for them to leave Collegeville. 

In the next two weeks the Armstrongs sold their home and 
wound up their affairs in Collegeville, and Thomas prepared for 
the role he was assuming — that of itinerant proselyter, spreading 
the teachings of the Guardians across the land. For the next 
several months the doctor visited interested groups in Virginia, 
Florida, and California, accompanied by his wife and youngest 
daughter, returning once or twice to Collegeville. When last we 
heard of him, early in the summer, he was still following his new 
vocation. He gave a talk before a large audience of flying saucer 
enthusiasts who were holding a convention at the College of 
Universal Wisdom in southern California. 

The group of believers in Lake Qty was dispersed by forces 
outside their control— legal action or some accident of personal 
situation. And, while circumstances combined to pull the stead- 
fast adherents apart, the group failed to win a single new convert. 
They were unskillful proselyters. It is interesting to speculate, 
however, on what they might have made of their opportunities 
had they been more effective apostles. For about a week they 
232 



EPILOGUE 

were headline news throughout the nation. Their ideas were not 
without popular appeal, and they received hundreds of visitors, 
telephone calls, and letters from seriously interested citizens, as 
well as offers of money (which they invariably refused) . Events 
conspired to offer them a truly magnificent opportunity to grow 
in numbers. Had they been more effective, disconfirmation might 
have portended the beginning, not the end. 



233 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 

NOTES, AND INDEX 



Methodobgkal Appendix 



In most studies that rely heavily on participant observers for col- 
lecting data, these observers are known as such to the people being 
studied. In our investigation of the group which gathered about 
Dr. Armstrong and Marian Keech, our observers posed as ordi- 
nary members who believed as the others did. In short, our in- 
vestigation was conducted without either the knowledge or the 
consent of the group members. This situation presented a number 
of problems that merit detailed discussion. 

In our very first contact with the central figures of the group, 
their secrecy and general attitude toward nonbelievers made it 
clear that a study could not be conducted openly. Our basic prob- 
lems were then obtaining entree for a sufficient number of ob- 
servers to provide the needed coverage of members' activities, and 
keeping at an absolute minimum any influence which these ob- 
servers might have on the beliefs and actions of members of the 
group. We tried to be nondirective, sympathetic listeners, passive 
participants who were inquisitive and eager to learn whatever 
others might want to tell us. As we shall point out later, our initial 
hope— to avoid any influence upon the movement— turned out 
to be somewhat unrealistic for reasons outside our control and 
inherent in the process of making such a study as this. The other 
problems of the study were of a more tactical nature: we had to 
be on the spot whenever something was happening in the group, 
and we also had to make opportunities for recording our observa- 
tions before they were forgotten or distorted by subsequent events. 

Obtaining Entree. We did not learn of the flood prediction un- 
til very late September and, owing to the pressure of other activi- 
ties, could not arrange direct contact with the group until a week 
later. By the time we had acquired suflScient information to de- 
termine that the movement satisfied the conditions necessary to 
test our hypothesis, it was the beginning of November. Finding 
suitable observers and giving them even the briefest of training 
took another week or two, and it was almost that much longer 



237 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

before they could secure entree into the movement in Lake City 
and Collegeville. All this had to be done with the utmost dispatch, 
since it was vital to collect as much "pre-disconfirmation" data as 
possible and we could anticipate needing considerable time to 
establish ourselves well enough in the group so that we could 
safely proceed to ask relatively intimate questions of the various 
members. Finally, the training and supervising of observers was 
handicapped by the fact that the study was carried on in locali- 
ties far from our home base. 

Our first problem then was to obtain a quick but firm entree 
into the movement in two distant places. Because of the severe 
pressure of time we chose whichever technique for introducing 
observers promised to be most effective. Accordingly, the pro- 
cedure varied from person to person and place to place. Our 
initial contact was with Mrs. Keech, whom one of the authors 
telephoned shortly after the newspaper story about her appeared 
in late September. He told her his name and said he had called to 
ask if he might talk with her about some of the things she had 
told the reporter, especially the matter of the predicted flood and 
flying saucers. He said he happened to be visiting Lake City "on 
business" and had telephoned on impulse because he and some 
friends in his home city had read the story and been interested. 
Mrs. Keech was reluctant to discuss any of her beliefs over the 
phone, or to give details on the extent of followership and similar 
matters. Since the caller could not conveniently visit her at that 
time he asked her if he might stop in on a subsequent trip and 
received an affirmative answer. 

About ten days later, two of the authors made a trip to Lake 
Qty, primarily in order to learn as much as they could about the 
size of the movement if any, the activities of members, and so 
forth. One telephoned Mrs. Keech on arrival and made an ap- 
pointment to call on her the following morning. He represented 
himself to be a businessman who had occasion to travel a good 
deal. Mrs. Keech seemed completely incurious about his occupa- 
tion and readily accepted his statements that he and several of 
his friends had an "informal group" in Minneapolis that frequent- 
ly "got together and discussed saucers and things like that." 

She willingly began to talk about her experiences with "auto- 
matic writing," read aloud at great length from her notebooks 
full of messages, and, in general, was quite receptive, friendly, and 
talkative. She did seem reluctant to say much about the flood pre- 
diction and had to be questioned extensively before much infor- 

238 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 



mation emerged. She was evasive on the question of how many 
"believers" there were in Lake City, and quite adamant in refus- 
ing to say what she and her followers (if any) were going to do 
about preparing for the cataclysm. Fortunately, Daisy Armstrong 
was present at the interview, visiting Mrs. Keech at the time, and 
supplied some answers that Mrs. Keech would not. She told the 
author about the Seekers in Collegeville, and made some reference 
to going to the Allegheny Mountains in late December. 

In all, the author spent three hours interviewing the two women 
that morning, and returned that evening with his colleague, whom 
he introduced as a business associate from Minneapolis, for an- 
other three- or four-hour talk. Before the authors left, they made 
sure they could take the initiative to call again in Lake City or in 
Collegeville when they wanted further information. Thus it was 
easy to make the acquaintance of these two persons and to estab- 
lish a basis for future contacts. 

One of the authors called on the Armstrongs in Collegeville 
approximately three weeks later, this occasion having been chosen 
as the nearest convenient time for a visit, but still not so near the* 
first contact as to arouse any wonder on the part of the Arm- 
strongs about the speed and intensity of our interest in their ac- 
tivities. It was our hope, on this visit, to meet the members of the 
Seekers and to be invited to attend a meeting. We did meet a 
number of members and, in talking to the Armstrongs, picked up 
some important information about their plans for going to a moun- 
tain refuge just before the flood was to strike. On the basis of 
this information we decided to hire local observers in Collegeville, 
and, accordingly, secured the services of a male student in soci- 
ology to make the first approach. 

We instructed this observer to attend the open meetings of the 
"elementary" Seekers (see Chapter III) at the Community Church 
and to attempt to get on good terms with Dr. Armstrong, with the 
aim of being invited to one of the Sunday afternoon meetings of 
the "advanced" Seekers. We have already reported the difficulty 
our observer experienced in arousing Dr. Armstrong's interest in 
him; all his efforts to stimulate an invitation to the "advanced" 
group meetings were having no success. Time was passing and 
we were losing opportunities for valuable observation. We there- 
fore decided upon a strategem suggested to us by Dr. Armstrong's 
inquiry to our observer as to whether he had ever had any "psy- 
chic experiences." We decided to equip our representative with 
an "experience" with the supernatural. 



239 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

The observer had told Dr. Armstrong of his having spent some 
time in Mexico, so we borrowed a folktale and set the scene there. 
The story our observer told was as follows: He and a companion 
had been driving between two Mexican cities. Toward dusk, they 
picked up an elderly peasant woman hitchhiking in their direction 
and let her occupy the rear seat. Soon she was talking to them, a 
long admonitory monologue full of warnings about disaster ahead. 
They paid little heed to her, and, after a time, she fell silent and, 
they assumed, slept. When they reached the outskirts of their 
home city, they turned to ask where she would get off, and found 
that she had disappeared! They had not stopped at all, and had 
been moving at a fast speed; they had heard no door open, no cry 
or noise of any kind from the rear once the old lady had stopped 
talking. 

Dr. Armstrong's interest was immediately aroused, and he very 
quickly began to manifest much more friendliness toward our 
observer, and interest in him. The observer was invited to attend 
the next meeting of the Seekers at Dr. Armstrong's home and, 
from the point of view of gaining acceptance for our representa- 
tive, the stratagem was a complete success. 

At the same time that we were constructing this scheme for our 
male observer in CoUegcvillc, we had decided to hire and train 
a young woman to act in the same capacity. Forewarned by his 
difficulties in approaching the Armstrongs through the medium 
of the elementary Seekers, we decided to arm our female observer 
with a "psychic experience" and to have her go directly to the 
Armstrong house to tell this story: A few nights previous to her 
call at the Armstrong home, our observer said, she had had a 
strange dream that disturbed her a good deal. She had consulted 
Dr. Armstrong professionally about a year ago, and he had urged 
her at that time to "get in tune with the universe" and this sug- 
gestion had stuck in her mind. Therefore, when she had the 
puzzling dream she had thought at once of going to him for 
advice and help. Her dream was as follows: "I was standing on 
the side of a hill. It wasn't a mountain, and yet it wasn't exactly 
a hill: and I looked up and there was a man standing on top of 
the hill with a light all around him. There were torrents of water, 
raging water all around, and the man reached down and lifted me 
up, up out of the water. I felt safe." 

Mrs. Armstrong's reaction to this story was enthusiastic. She 
welcomed the observer warmly, and at once began to enlighten 
her visitor about the protectors from outer space. Within an hour, 



240 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 

our observer was informed about the belief system, had been told 
of the predicted flood, of the mission of the flying saucers, and 
like matters. When Dr. Armstrong came home from work, his 
wife proudly presented the observer as one who "had been sent," 
and the two Armstrongs began to interpret the "dream," During 
the next few days, our observer was pressed to retell her "dream" 
several more times to other members of the Seekers and finally 
was asked to tape-record it so it could be sent to Lake Qty or 
played to people in distant places. Again, our scheme had been 
successful for gaining entree into the group. 

Unhappily, it had been too successful, for, in our effort to 
tailor a story to fit the beliefs of the members of the group, and 
thus gain their approval for our observers, we had done too well. 
We had unintentionally reinforced their beliefs that the Guard- 
ians were watching over humanity and were "sending" chosen 
people for special instruction about the cataclysm and the belief 
system. Dr. Armstrong's initial indifference to the male observer 
had led us to underestimate the powerful effect of the "dream." 
In all probability its effect was magnified by coming so close 
behind the male observer's story (they were separated by only 
two or three days). 

In introducing themselves into the Lake City group, our ob- 
servers there told stories that were quite unexciting, even com- 
monplace. The male observer told Mrs. Keech that he had read 
the newspaper story about her in September and had intended 
to call on her earlier, but somehow had never got around to it. 
He had remained interested, however, though he was not quite 
sure what he wanted to know; he just wanted to know more than 
the newspaper account had given. 

Mrs. Keech's response to this introduction was favorable, 
though not as enthusiastic as the Armstrongs' welcome of our 
CoUegeville observers had been. She volunteered to tell the ob- 
server how she had begun to receive messages, how the messages 
related to flying saucers, what the significance of many of her 
writings were, and so on. She spent a couple of hours explaining 
these things, offered him refreshments, and, when he asked if he 
might return, told him: "My door is always open. Please feel free 
to come back." 

Our female observer in Lake Qty was instructed to use a some- 
what different approach, in order to avoid stretching a coinci- 
dence. She called a day or so before our male observer had and 
told Mrs. Keech the following story. She had been at a meeting 

241 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

of people interested in ediical and religious problems in the neigh- 
borhood where she lived and worked. The discussion had turned 
to flying saucers and a man seated next to her had remarked that 
if our observer really wanted to know about flying saucers, she 
should go visit Mrs. Keech, and had given her Mrs. Keech's ad- 
dress. The observer had thought about this piece of advice for a 
while and then, on impulse, had come to call. She seemed a little 
uneasy and said that she felt "sort of silly" and "didn't know ex- 
actly why she had come," but was "just curious about flying 
saucers." 

Mrs. Keech again reacted favorably, inviting the yoimg lady 
into the house to warm herself, and began to talk about flying 
saucers, about her communication with their occupants, her mes- 
sages from Sananda, reincarnation, and the like. She told the story 
of the sice at Lyons field, mentioned the "war" between Atlantis 
and Mu, and offered to "get a lesson" from Sananda for our ob- 
server. In all, she spent about four hours talking about the belief 
system, without once mentioning the coming cataclysmic flood 
on December 21. This observer also asked if she might return 
and Mrs. Keech gave her permission, but warned her to telephone 
first, so that she would not come at a time when some other stu- 
dent was receiving a lesson. 

In spite of the relatively ordinary, non-exotic stories that the 
Lake City observers told Mrs. Keech she subsequently made 
much the same use of their appearance on her doorstep as the 
Armstrongs had with the Collegeville observers. Her imagination 
embroidered the circumstances somewhat and, within a week of 
the first observer's call, Mrs. Keech was explaining to other mem- 
bers of the group that a girl had come to her door, upset, excited, 
wringing her hands, and so terrified that she could not speak; the 
girl had not known why she had come, and obviously she had been 
"sent" by the Guardians. Then, Mrs. Keech added, a man had 
also called, again not knowing why he was there, confused, upset, 
and unsure of his errand. She elaborated not only the bewilder- 
ment and emotionality of the observers but also her own warmth 
of response and comforting actions toward them. Her account 
was retold in Collegeville by the Armstrongs, just as their versions 
of our observers' visits to them were retold in Lake City. In both 
cases the visits were given as illustrations that "strange things are 
happening." 

The members of the group who heard these accounts were 
impressed, it seemed to us, by this upsurge of membership within 

242 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 



a few days. There is little doubt that the addition of four new 
people to a fairly small group within ten days had an effect on 
the state of conviction among the existing members, especially 
since the four seem to have appeared when public apathy to the 
belief system was great and there were very few inquiries or new 
faces in either CoUegeville or Lake City. Most important of all, 
perhaps, is that the four observers could not be traced through 
any mutual friends or acquaintances to existing group members 
and thus the most common and expected channel of recruitment 
was evidently not responsible for their appearance. It was an un- 
fortunate and unavoidable set of events — we had no choice but 
to establish local observers in both cities where there were be- 
lievers, to do it quickly, and to "push" as much as we dared to 
get our people well enough received so they could begin to move 
about in the groups, ask questions, and have a reasonable expecta- 
tion of getting answers. We could not afford to have them remain 
peripheral members, or strangers, for very long. 

One other observer, a man, did not make contact with the 
group until Christmas Day when he called at the Keech house, 
saying simply that he had read the newspaper accounts of recent 
happenings and had come out to learn more about what was going 
on. He had no problem of entree. As we have already pointed 
out, he was readily admitted and regarded as a spaceman, even 
though he told a most straightforward story of his earthly origin 
and occupation (unemployed IBM operator). 

It seems clear that his appearance in the post-disconfirmation 
stage probably affected the state of conviction too, for he was the 
only new recruit the group attracted. The group imposed their own 
meaning on his visits. The new observer was introduced in order 
to maintain coverage. The regular observers and the authors had 
been "on duty" nearly full time for nearly ten days at that point, 
were exhausted, and had personal affairs to take care of. 

Maintaining Membership. A major problem in acting as an ob- 
server was to become friendly enough, well enough accepted and 
integrated into group activity, to allow one to be present on 
significant occasions and to ask fairly personal questions of others, 
while still avoiding any act of commitment, proselyting, indica- 
tion of conviction, or any act of directing the course of the move- 
ment. We have already shown how the mere joining of the group 
by the observers tended to heighten the conviction of at least the 
Armstrongs and Mrs. Keech, but a few examples of the kinds of 
situations the observers faced as members will illustrate the diffi- 



243 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

culdes they encountered and their attempts to cope with them. 
Actually, we were unable to achieve our goal of complete neu- 
trality. At various points there arose situations in which the ob- 
servers were forced to take some action and no matter what they 
might have done, their action would have had some effect on 
developments in the group. 

One of the most obvious kinds of pressure on observers was to 
get them to take various kinds of responsibilities for recommend- 
ing or taking action in the group. Most blatant was the situation 
that one of the authors encountered on November 23 when 
Marian Keech asked him, in fact commanded him, to lead the 
meeting that night. His solution was to suggest that the ^roup 
meditate silently and wait for inspiration. The agonizing silence 
that followed was broken by Bertha's first plunge into medium- 
ship (see Chapter III), an act that was undoubtedly made possible 
by the silence and by the author's failure to act himself. Twice 
again during that long meeting Marian Keech asked the author if 
he had "brought a message" for the group. By the time of his 
third refusal to act, he began to be concerned lest his apparent 
incapacity should injure the carefully nurtured rapport he had 
established in the group. 

Both of our Lake City "local" observers were under pressure 
at various times in mid-December to quit their jobs and spend all 
their time with the group. One observer persistently avoided mak- 
ing any statement about his plans; the other waited until the 17th 
and then announced that her job had been terminated. Yet their 
evasion of these requests and their failure to quit their jobs at 
once were not only embarrassing to them and threatening to their 
rapport with the group, but also may have had the effect of mak- 
ing the members who had quit their jobs less sure they had done 
the right thing. In short, as members, the observers could not be 
neutral — any action had consequences. 

Another form of demand for action was pressure on all the 
observers to take a stand when a division of opinion occurred in 
the group. Illustrative of this is the dilemma which the observers 
faced when during the meeting of December 4 Bertha brought 
meat into the Keech home after the Creator had revoked the 
vegetarian rule. While most members of the group proceeded to 
eat the meat, Mrs. Keech herself abstained. Any action of the 
observers had to be a choice between Sananda and the Creator. 
On this occasion the observers chose to abstain from eating the 
meat. 

244 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 



Another type of difficulty was faced by the observers when, 
on occasion, they were forced to deal directly with outsiders. Dur- 
ing mid-December, especially from the 1 8th to the 20th, the Lake 
City observers were occasionally handed the task of answering 
the phone. When they could not avoid doing it, they were carefifl 
to ask for detailed instructions and meticulously followed them. 
Once or twice they were asked to discuss the belief system with 
callers. Ordinarily the observers tried to turn such occasions into 
interviews with the inquirers, but could not always avoid direct 
questions from the caller. Such questions were always personally 
embarrassing but became strategically difficult when a "real" mem- 
ber of the group was in a position to overhear the observer's an- 
swer. As far as we can tell, we fumbled our way through these 
latter crises without positively convincing any caller and without 
arousing any suspicions among members save those having to 
do with the observers' intelligence and knowledge of the belief 
system. 

Occasionally the observers' well-hidden network of communi- 
cation outside the group proved invaluable but led to unintended 
interpretations among the members of the group. Through these 
channels the authors learned of two meetings in Lake City that 
we had not been informed of "officially" by Mrs. Keech and we 
requested invitations to visit her on these days. It was clear from 
her subsequent remarks that she regarded our means of anticipat- 
ing meetings as having supernatural origin. Once we had an ob- 
server change a personal plan that he had announced to Mrs. 
Keech in order to have him attend a meeting where we thought 
we might be shorthanded. Forced to give some account of his 
unexpected (and uninvited) appearance he had to say that he had 
changed his plans on impulse and, again, what might have been 
regarded by most people as a curious coincidence was interpreted 
by Mrs. Keech as a significant exercise of influence by the Guard- 
ians. It was omniscience of this sort that led Mrs. Keech to suspect 
that one of the authors had "his own channels of information" to 
the Guardians. 

Finally, we shall describe an incident that strikingly highlights 
the utter impossibility of avoiding influence on the believers short 
of absolute refusal to participate in an activity. At the end of the 
December 3-4 meeting, Bertha sat for "private consultations" 
between the individual members and "the Creator" who spoke 
through her. All the observers dutifully asked a question or two 
of the Creator and accepted the answers passively, quitting the 



M5 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

situation as soon as they politely could. The last observer to go 
through this ritual was not allowed to be merely passive and non- 
directive, however. The voice of the medium droned on for a 
few minutes and then said: "I am the Creator." Next the voice 
asked our observer: "What do you see when I say 'I am the 
Creator'?" To this the observer replied, "Nothing," whereupon the 
medium's voice explained: "That's not nothing; that's the void." 
The medium then pressed further: "Do you see a light in the 
void?" Our observer struggled with this impasse by answering, 
"A light in the void?" and got, as a reply, a fuller explanation of 
the "light that expands and covers the void" together with an 
increasing flood of elaboration that terminated when the medium 
called other members into the room and asserted that the observer 
had just been "allowed to witness Creation"! The medium further 
stated that this "event" was validation of her speaking with the 
Creator's voice since, every time her voice said "I am the Creator" 
our observer saw the vision of Creation! Against this sort of run- 
away invention even the most polished technique of nondirective 
response is powerless. 

In spite of our best efforts, then, we did have some effects on 
the movement. We have perhaps overemphasized the effect of the 
observers by pulling out the major incidents that evidence our 
influence, but our presence alone, and some of our actions, did 
lend support to their convictions and their activities. On the other 
hand, at no time did we exercise any influence whatsoever on 
proselyting activity. We were meticulously concerned with this 
point and we were completely successful in avoiding any impact 
on our major dependent variable. 

The Observers and Their Task. All observers were either stu- 
dents or staff members in departments of psychology or soci- 
ology, and all had had some previous experience in interviewing 
and observational technique. 

We included one male and one female observer in each local 
team, so that we could exploit any advantages that a same-sex 
interviewer has in gathering data from a subject. It turned out to 
give us certain unanticipated advantages, too, for the female ob- 
servers were able to pick up a great deal of information as part- 
time residents of the Keech and Armstrong households, a role 
that would have been much more difficult for a man to fill. 

The assignment handed the observers was necessarily open- 
ended for the very good reason that the situation they were to 
observe was extremely fluid and unpredictable. The observers 

246 



METHODOLOGICAL APPE^fDIX 



were given very brief "training" in the objectives of the study 
and instructions about the kinds of information we were most 
interested in collecting. They were informed that we needed to 
know, about each individual in the movement, the degree to 
which he was sincerely convinced of the truth of the various 
components of the belief system; the kinds of actions he had 
taken (or failed to take) in committing himself to participation 
in the movement; and, finally, the extent to which he had engaged 
in proselyting or propagandizing for the belief system. In addi- 
tion, the observers were instructed to note any activities or utter- 
ances of members that indicated changes or developments in the 
belief system, in plans for future action (particularly in regard 
to coping with the cataclysm), and any items of personal history 
that might throw light on how the members had become inter- 
ested and active in the movement — especially if these items would 
throw further light on conviction, commitment, and proselyting. 
The first objectives of observation, then, were to determine 
whether or not a group of followers existed, who they were, and 
how convinced and committed they were. 

The second important task, in the early phase of observation, 
was to discover what actions the members of the movement 
would take as the date of the cataclysm drew near. We knew that 
it would be essential to be present during the disconfirmation and 
recovery phases, and were greatly concerned about the initial 
plan of the group to go to the "safe places" in mountain ranges. 
Since we did not know how many people, or who, would be 
going to any particular place, or how many observers would be 
needed, we were greatly concerned about personnel, equipment, 
and travel facilities for accompanying the migrants and living 
with them for an indefinite period of disconfirmation on the side 
of a hill in midwinter. 

Finally, since the ideology itself seemed changeable, and the 
inspirations of the leaders unpredictable, we had to be prepared 
for almost any contingency including the awful possibility that 
the date would be changed, postponed, or abandoned. It was a 
nerve-racking uncertainty that stayed with us right up till the 
midnight vigil on December zo. 

Thus the job of observation differed from that encountered in 
a community study or the study of a stable, organized group 
holding regular meetings and having a fairly fixed plan of activity. 
We could not count on the regular recurrence of particular ac- 
tivities or interactions. With the exception of one or two of the 



H7 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

Seekers' meetings we rarely knew more than a few days ahead 
of time when any organized activity would take place, or where 
it would occur. The leaders themselves were unable to give plan- 
ful coherence to their activities because of the other-worldly 
origin of their directives, and invariably shrugged off any ques- 
tion about the future by asserting that they were waiting for 
orders. Thus we had to grant as much responsibility and autono- 
my to our observers as possible and depend largely on their own 
initiative and acquaintance with the local situation to govern their 
actions. Problems of rigor and systematization in observation took 
a back seat in the hurly-burly of simply trying to keep up with 
a movement that often seemed to us to be ruled by whimsy. 

For all practical purposes, the period of intensive observation 
began approximately one month before the predicted flood — i.e., 
on November 19. Between this date and the end of intensive ob- 
servation on January 7, we conducted observations in CoUegeville 
on 29 days and in Lake City on 3 1 days. Some of these visits or 
contacts were brief — only an hour or two, while others lasted up 
to twelve or fourteen hours of continuous observation. Coverage 
grew more intensive as the predicted date of the cataclysm drew 
nearer. In CoUegeville there was daily observation from the 9th 
through the 24th of December, and in Lake City, from the 14th 
through the 27th of December. In both places there was at least 
one observer present at almost every waking hour between the 
17th and the 22nd. Indeed, for this period, our female observers 
for all practical purposes resided in the Keech and Armstrong 
homes. When the Lake Qty observer told the group on the 1 7th 
that she no longer had a job, Mrs. Keech invited her to move in. 
In CoUegeville, when the Armstrongs set out for Lake City on 
the 13th they simply assumed that our observer there would be 
willing to stay in their home and help look after their children. 
This observer was trapped and there was nothing to do about it. 

It wiU be clear from this account of the extent of surveillance 
that we were fairly successful in arranging to have an observer 
present at the major events and developments in the movement 
and, when these were not correctly anticipated, to have someone 
on the scene shortly afterward to get an account of what had 
occurred from one or more of the participants. We are sure that 
we had a representative at every group meeting between the 20th 
of November and the 7th of January, and the only major "event" 
we did not cover at first hand was the Christmas carol sing on 
the lawn in front of Mrs. Keech's house on December 24. 

248 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 



Owing to observer fatigue we have a less complete account 
than we would like of the meeting (on December 12-13) between 
Marian Keech and Ella Lowell; but we believe we picked up the 
essential details and know the significance of the meeting. There 
were a few minor events during the observation period that we 
did not cover: one rump meeting at Bertha's home on December 
5; the visit of the Armstrongs to Ella Lowell on December 6 (al- 
though we heard fairly complete tape recordings of the speeches 
of Dr. Browning on this occasion); a small private meeting on 
December 16 following the public lecture to the flying saucer 
club; and other events of this nature, whose significance was made 
clear to us by the participants' subsequent accounts. 

Thorough coverage was both essential and difiicult. Many of 
our observers' visits produced a relatively low yield of informa- 
tion (though scarcely any were completely barren) simply be- 
cause nothing new had occurred since their previous call, or the 
members were engaged in biding their time — a rather unexciting 
activity. When no special event was taking place, the observers 
were usually able to draw out background information, cross- 
check rumors and reports among members, make inquiries about 
degree of conviction or proselyting activity, and, if nothing 
better offered itself, continue to build rapport. 

The observational scheme was difficult to operate too because 
of the near impossibility of keeping a fresh, alert observer on 
duty at all times whenever something was likely to occur. Observ- 
ing, in this study, was exhausting work. In addition to the strain 
created by having to play an accepting, passive role vis-a-vis an 
ideology that aroused constant incredulity, which had to be con- 
cealed, observers frequently had to stay in the group for long 
hours without having an opportunity to record what they learned. 
Sometimes, the long hours were imposed by Mrs. Keech or Ber- 
tha, who would make rules regarding constancy of attendance; 
sometimes circumstances stuck one observer with his task during 
a crucial phase when he was unable to summon a relief, or the 
relief could not appear. 

Our observers had their own daily lives to care for as well as 
the job, and were subject to occasional bouts of illness or fatigue 
from lack of sleep. The job was frequently irritating because of 
the irrelevancies (from the point of view of our main interest) 
that occupied vast quantities of time during the all-night meet- 
ings, the repetitiousness of much that was said, and the incoher- 
ence of the congeries of beliefs that went into the melting pot of 



249 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 

ideology. This last aspect was not only exhausting because of the 
strain imposed on attention and memory, but irritating because 
the observers felt responsible for keeping it all straight and setting 
it down as accurately as possible at a later time. 

Recording Observations. The data collected by the observers 
was in the form of anecdotal accounts of events that took place in 
their presence; reports to them of actions that members had taken 
earlier or elsewhere; factual or attitudinal data elicited in inter- 
views or conversations with members; and the content of talks 
or assertions made to the group as a whole. The circumstances 
of observation made it impossible to make notes openly except 
on a single occasion, the meeting of November 23, when the 
Creator ordered notes taken. It was also difficult to make notes 
privately or secretly, for the observers were rarely left alone in- 
side the house and it was necessary to be ingenious enough to find 
excuses for leaving the group temporarily. One device used occa- 
sionally was to make notes in the bathroom. This was not entirely 
satisfactory, however, since too frequent trips there would prob- 
ably arouse curiosity if not suspicion. Sometimes the bathroom 
was used in relays. On the morning of December 21, for example, 
when all our observers were very fatigued and unwilling to trust 
their memory too much, one would go make notes while the 
others stayed to listen. 

Every so often it was possible for an observer to slip out on the 
back porch to make notes in the dark. During breaks in the meet- 
ings the observers would frequently take walks outdoors to get 
fresh air, thus providing another opportunity. For example, after 
Dr. Armstrong had finished urging one of the authors to shed his 
doubts at the critical time of 3:30 a.m. on December 21, Dr. Arm- 
strong went back indoors but the author, pleading that he needed 
to think alone, stayed outdoors and wrote dovm the whole epi- 
sode immediately. 

At other times we had to depend upon memory to retain the 
substance of conversations, interviews and the like until we could 
dictate these observations into tape recorders. Every observer had 
access to such a machine, and was under instructions to dictate 
his observations as soon as possible after each contact. Ordinarily 
such dictation could be accomplished within a few hours after 
leaving the observation site, though from time to time an ob- 
server, exhausted by an all-night meeting, had to defer dictation 
until he had caught up on sleep. The greater part of our data was 
tape-recorded within three or four hours of the time the observer 

250 



METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX 

ended his contact. During the period of round-the-clock cover- 
age of the Lake City group (between the 17th and the 22nd of 
December), we maintained a temporary headquarters in a hotel 
about half a mile from Mrs. Keech's home, and the observers kept 
three tape-recording machines busy absorbing their notes. Most 
of the material obtained during this time was recorded within an 
hour after leaving the house. 

In all, the reports of the observers filled approxi'matefy sixty- 
five reels of one-hour tapes, yielding almost one thousand pages 
of typescript when they were transcribed; in addition, we accu- 
mulated about one hundred typewritten pages of material that 
had been directly recorded. This latter material includes a variety 
of things. When Marian Keech and Dr. Armstrong addressed the 
Flying Saucer Club, we arranged to have a special assistant attend 
this public meeting and he succeeded in recording almost the 
entire session on a midget tape recorder. 

Our verbatim material also includes many phone conversations. 
From the evening of December 2 1 on, the group, expecting that 
orders from the Guardians might come over the phone, tape- 
recorded every incoming phone call. The group was quite happy 
to let one of our observers borrow these tapes, which we then 
transcribed. In addition, our observers in Coilegeville were able 
to transcribe many of the Ella Lowell tapes. We also have ver- 
batim copies and sometimes the originals of many of Mrs. Keech's 
most important messages. 

The material we gathered, therefore, varies "in accuracy 'f rom 
verbatim transcriptions or written documents on the one hand to 
a few reports that are simply summaries of the highlights of very 
long meetings. For events before the beginning of direct observa- 
tion we have had to rely largely on retrospective material. 

We have quoted directly from documents and firsthand tape 
recordings, but otherwise have used the direct quotation form 
only when the observer either had an opportunity to make writ- 
ten notes on a conversation within a few minutes of its occur- 
rence, or when he made an especial point of remembering an 
important statement verbatim and putting it into his record with 
assurances to that effect. 

Summary. From the foregoing description as well as from the 
report in the substantive chapters, it should be clear to the reader 
that the procedures used in conducting this study departed from 
the orthodoxy of social science in a number of respects. We 

251 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 



should like to summarize here some of these departures and the 
facts that made them necessary. 

In the first place, it is clear that we were unable to rely on the 
standard array of technical tools of social psychology. Our ma- 
terial is largely quahtative rather than quantitative and even simple 
tabulations of what we observed would be difficult. Owing to 
the complete novelty and unpredictability of the movement, as 
well as to the pressure of time, we could not develop standard 
categories of events, actions, statements, feelings, and the like, 
and certainly could not subject the members of the group to any 
standardized measuring instrument, such as a (juestionnaire or 
structured interview, in order to compare indices before and 
after disconfirmation. 

Actually we faced as much a job of detective work as of ob- 
servation. We had to listen, probe, and query constantly to find 
out in the beginning who the members of the group were, how 
sincerely they believed the ideology, what actions they were tak- 
ing that were consonant with their beliefs, and to what extent 
they were propagandizing or attempting to convince others. 
Later, we had to continue to accumulate this sort of data while 
further inquiring about what was going to happen next in the 
movement: when there would be another meeting, who was being 
invited, where the group (or individuals) were going to wait for 
the flood, and like questions. Furthermore, we had to conduct 
the entire inquiry covertly, without revealing our research pur- 

Eose, pretending to be merely interested individuals who had 
een persuaded of the correctness of the behef system and yet 
taking a passive and uninfluential role in the group. Our data, in 
places, are less complete than we would like, our influence on the 
group somewhat greater than we would like. We were able, how- 
ever, to collect enough information to tell a coherent story and, 
fortunately, the effects of disconfirmation were striking enough 
to provide for firm conclusions. 



JVotes to Chapter 1 



*P. Hughes, A Popular History of the Catholic Church (New York: 
Doubleday and Company, 1954), p. 10. 

"Richard Heath, Anabaptism: From Its Rise at Zwickau to Its Fall at 
Mmster, 1521-1^36 (London: Alexander and Shepheard, 1895), p. 119. This 
is one of the Baptist Manuals: Historical and Biographical, edited by George 
P. Gould. 

^Ibid., pp. 147-148. 

*Ibid., pp. 120-121. 

' In describing the Sabbataian movement we shall follow the account given 
by H. Graetz, History of the Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society 
of America, 1895), Vol. 5, pp. 118-167. This, in our judgment, is the best 
single source. 

' Graetz, p. 122. 

'Ibid., pp. 134, 137. 

'Ibid., p. 146. 

'Ibid., pp. 147-148. 

""Ibid., p. 149. 

" The Memoirs of Gluckei of Hameln, translated by Marvin Lowenthal 
(New York: Harper, 1932), pp. 45-46. 

" C. E. Sears, Days of Delusion - A Strange Bit of History (Boston and 
New York: Houghton Mifilin, 1924). 

" Francis D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry (Tacoma Park, Washington, D.C.: 
Review and Herald Publishing Company, 1944). 

"Ibid., p. a. 

" Ibid., p. 101. 
"Ibid., pp. 124-125. 

"Brother Jonathan, February 18, 1843, quoted in Nichol, p. 130. 

" Signs of the Times, January 25, 1843, p. 147, quoted in Nichol, p. 1 26. 

"Nichol, p, 126. 

" Sears, p. 1 19. 

"^Nichol, p. i6on. 

^ Sears, pp. 140-141. 

" Ibid., p. 144. 

" Nichol, p. 206. 

" Scats, p. 147. 

Advent Herald, July 17, 1844, p. 188, quoted in Nichol, p. 208. 
" Advent Herald, July 24, 1844, p. 200, quoted in Nichol, p. 208. 
"Nichol, pp. 209-210. 
"Ibid^ p. 21 J 

'"Advent Herald, October 30, 1844, p. 93, quoted in Nichol, p. 216. 



253 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 



"Sears, pp. 156-157. 
"Nichol, p. 231. 

" The Midnight Cry, October 19, 1844, p. 133, quoted in Nichol, p. 236. 
" The Midnight Cry, October 3, 1844, p. 104, quoted in Nichol, p. 238 
"Nichol, pp. 238-239. 

"* Hiram Edson, fragment of ms. on his life and experience, pp. 8, 9, quoted 
in Nichol, pp. 247-248. 

"Luther BouteUe, Life and Religious Experience, pp. 67-68, quoted in 
Nichol, pp. 248-249. 

" Unless otherwise identified, all quotations used in our discussion of Chris- 
tianity are taken from essays in the collective work Christianity in the Light 
of Modem Knowledge (London and Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1929). The 
specific essays from which quotations have been taken are the following: 
Francis Crawford Burkitt, F.B.A., D.D., "The Life of Jesus," pp. 198-256; 
Rev. Charles Anderson Scott, D.D., "The Theology of the New Testament," 
pp. 337-389; Rev. Canon David Capell Simpson, M.A., D.D., "Judaism, the 
Religion in Which Qirist Was Educated," pp. 136-171. 

"P- 335. 
»P.350. 
"P. 165. 
"P. 226. 

" Graetz, Vol. 2, p. 166. 

" The theory of dissonance and its implications are set forth in detail in a 
forthcoming book by Leon Festinger. 



Index 



Anabaptists, 7-8 

Armstrong, Cleo, 74: cotiviction and 
commitment of, 76-77; and father's 
dismissal, izo-2i; reaction of to dis- 
confirmation, 197-99 

Armstrong, Daisy: background of, 39- 
41; interpretation of footprints, 42; 
as proselyter, 62; reaction of to dis- 
confirmation, 194-95 

Armstrong, Dr. Thomas: background 
of, 39-41; first meeting with JVlrs. 
Keech, 42-43; first press release, 57- 
59; as proselyter, 60; and observers, 
70-71; suspicions of, 73; dismissal of, 
85-86, 119-21, 134-36; and Saucer 
Qub speech, 133-34; conviction and 
commitment of, 165-66; Christmas 
Eve disconfirmation, 187-89; reaction 
of to disconfirmation, 193-94; activi- 
ties after disconiinnation, 231-32 

Astral, 35, 36 

Belief system, described, 43-55 
Bergen, Arthur, 126-27, 206-8 
Blatsky, Bertha, 88, 90: as medium, 92- 
96, 97-101, 108-14; background of, 
93-94; symbolic birth incident, 112; 
husband's disapproval of activities, 
124-25; reaction of to disconfirma- 
tion, 201-3, 
Broola, Laura, 81, 218-20 

Captain Video, 142-43, 158 

Car, 52-53 
Cerus, 36 

Christianity, and present hypothesis, 
23-25 

Christmas Eve prediction, 186, 230 
Clarion, 30, 36. See also Spacemen 
Commitment, degree of, 5, 75: of Mrs. 
Keech, 63; or Armstrongs, 76; of 



Cleo Armstrong, 76-77; of Bob East- 
man, 77-79; jobs resigned to indicate, 
107 

Consonance-dissonance theory, 25-30, 
228 

Conviction, degree of, -j^S and passim 
Creator, 98-101, 108-13, '63-65 

Dianetics, 34, 93 

Disconfirmation: conditions for in- 
creased fervor following, 3-6; of 
Montanists, 6-7; of Anabaptists, 8; of 
Sabbataians, 9; of Millentes, 17-18; 
and dissonance, 26-27; at Lyons 
field, 50-51; of first saucer pickup, 
140-42; of second saucer pickup, 
145-47; of third saucer pickup, 159- 
63; on Christmas Eve, 187-89; reac- 
tions to, 193-208, 217-26 

Eastman, Bob, 74: conviction and 
commitment of, 77-79; and Ella 
Lowell, 121-22; reaction of to dis- 
confirmation, 197-201 

Elder Brother, 36-37, 45-46 

Fischer, Hal, 83, 224-25 

Flood, 30, 42: Sananda's message on, 

55-57; Dr. Armstrong on, 74, 99-100. 

See also Predictions 
Flying Saucer Qub, 39: speech at, 131- 

3J 

Flying saucers, 34-35, 41, 64, 88 
Freund, Kurt, 127-28; after disconfir- 
mation, 170, 205-6 

Glassbaum, Manya, 140, 143-44 
Group support, need for following dis- 
confirmation, 148, 157-58, 204-5,228- 
»9 

Guardians, 37, 45, 67, 74 



255 



WHEN PROPHECY FAILS 



Heath, Susan, 81-82, 220-23 
Himes, Joshua V., 13, 18 

I AM movement, 34, 40 
Ideology, see Belief system 

Keech, Marian: prediction of, 30-31; 
background of, 33-35; and Sananda, 
36; proselyting efforts of, 38-39, 88; 
meets Armstrongs, 42; at Lyons 
field, 48-51; press relations of, 59, 
170-76; personal instructions of, 88- 
89; and Ella Logan, 1 17-18; secrecy 
of, 129-30, 147; Saucer Qub speech, 
131-3 3 > reaction of to final discon- 
firmation, 166-67, '93i leaves Lake 
City, 230-31 

Keech, Mr., 38-39, 109, 230; "death 
and resurrection" of, 164 

King, Godfre Ray (Guy Ballard), 34 

Lessons, see Messages 

Lowell, Ella, 103-5, i'J-"5, 1 17-19 

Lyons field incident, 4S-50, 59 

Meetings: of Seekers, 71-75, loi, 105, 
1 16; on November 23, 90-96; on No- 
vember 24, 97-101; on December 3- 
4, 108-13, 245-46; on December 14, 
126-31; on December 18, 148, 149-51, 
152-55; on December 20, 159-73; 
December 24, 186-89; difficulties in 
observing, 247-49; recording obser- 
vations of, 250-51 

Messages: Mrs. Keech's early, 35-38; 
from Sananda, 44-48, 55-57, 88, 150; 
change in emphasis of, 52; mimeo- 
graphing of, 65; counsel passivity, 
67; individual, 8^-89; after discon- 
firmation, 169; "Christmas" message, 
169; on press, 181, 183; new predic- 
tions, 184, 186 

Millerites, 12-23 

Montanists, 6-7 

Novick, Frank, 90, 95, 109, 156 
Novick, May, 90, 93, 94, 109, 156 

Observers: introduction of to group, 
66, 68-71, 237-43; at November 2} 
meeting, 91-92; reception of after 



final disconfirmation, 190-92; prob- 
lems of, 243-46; task of, 246-50 
O'Donnell, Kitty, 79-81, 121-24, »i7-i8 

Post, Edna, 87-88, 194-95 

Post, Mark, 87, 195-97 

Predictions: messianic movements or- 
ganized around, 5; of Millerites, 15- 
17, 19-22; Daisy's of the flood, 42; 
Marian's of the flood, 55-57; per- 
sistence of following disconfirma- 
tion, 184, 186, 214-15 

Press, relations with, 58-59, 134-36, 141, 
170-76 

Proselyting: conditions for increased, 
4; reason for increased, 25-30; of 
Sabbataians, 10; Mrs. Keech's first 
efforts at, 37-39; effect of Lyons field 
on, 52; following first press release, 
59-60; Mrs. Keech's reticence in, 61- 
63; through the Seekers, 65-66, 103; 
Creator on, 100, 11 3-14; Saucer Qub 
speech as, 131-34; after first discon- 
firmation, 144-45; after second dis- 
confirmation, 148-49; after final dis- 
confirmation, 170-77, 208-11; sum- 
mary, 212-14 

Publicity seeking: of Sabbataians, 10; 
of Millerites, 14, 20-21; press re- 
leases, 57, 58-59; following discon- 
firmation, 209-10 

Purden, Fred, 81, 21&-20 

Sananda, 36-38, 42, 44-48, 50-51, 93-95 
Scherr, George, 82, 121-22, 223-24 
Scientology, 34, 93 

Seances, of Ella Lowell, 103-5, '•S-'<5i 
1 17-18. See also Meetings 

Secrecy, io8, 129, 147, 211-14 

Seekers: organization of, 41, 64-65; re- 
ception of observers in, 68-71; meet- 
ings of, 71-75, loi, 105, 1 16-17, 239; 
concealing activity of, 102; reaction 
of to disconfirmation, 217-27 

Sibet, 93, 94 

Sice, 50-51 

Spacemen, 60-^1, 151-55 

Wilton, Qyde, 90-91, 98, 109, 201-4 

Zevi, Sabbatai, 8-12 



256 



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Publication Details For "When prophecy fails, " 

Title: When prophecy fails. 

Author(s): Festinger, Leon. Riecken, Henry W.. Schachter, Stanley. 

Publisher Minneapolis, MN, US: University of Minnesota Press, 1956. vii, 257 pp. 
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http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pzh&jid=200416485&site=ehost-live 



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Publication Authored Book 
Type: 

Book Type: Classic Book 
Subjects: Irrational Beliefs; Religious Beliefs 
Language: English 

Abstract: We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if 
the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the 
variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to 
keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks. But man's resourcefulness 
goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with 
his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has 
taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with 
evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will 
happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more 
convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a 
new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view. How and why 
does such a response to contradictory evidence come about? This is the question on 
which this book focuses. We hope that, by the end of the volume, we will have 
provided an adequate answer to the question, an answer documented by data. 
(PsyclNFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved) 



Table of 
Contents: 



Riecken and Stanley 
Riecken and Stanley 



Frontmatter 

Unfulfilled prophecies and disappointed messiahs 

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley 
Teachings and prophecies from outer space 

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley 
Spreading the word on earth 

Leon Festinger, Henry W, 
The long wait for orders 

Leon Festinger, Henry W, 
Four days of very imminent salvation 

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley 
An unfulfilled prophecy and an elated prophet 

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley 
Reactions to disconfirmation 

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley 
Alone and dry 

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley 
Backmatter 

Epilogue 

Methodological appendix 
Notes to chapter I 
Index 



Schachter / 3-32 
Schnachter/ 33-57 
Schnachter/ 58-86 
Schnachter / 87-138 
Schnachter / 139-173 
Schnachter / 174-192 
Schnachter / 193-215 
Schnachter / 216-229 



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